Entering play on Friday, it seemed the Chicago Cubs had the upper hand on the St. Louis Cardinals, and more importantly, their starting pitcher Luke Weaver. In five starts, the right-hander owned a 10.89 ERA over 19 innings against the Cubs. Coupled with that, opposing Cubs’ hitters were slashing .393/.469/.583 prior to Friday night’s match-up.
Even with Weaver’s struggles, the Cubs dropped the series opener to the Cardinals on Friday by a score of 5-2.
Despite those gaudy numbers, Weaver looked much better in his sixth start against the Cubs. In the first inning, it looked like the Cubs would continue their dominance of Weaver. Two quick outs were followed by back-to-back singles from Jason Heyward and Javier Baez that put runners on the corners for veteran Ben Zobrist.
Leading up to Friday, Zobrist had been at his best with runners in scoring position this season. In 59 at-bats in that situation, Zobrist was slashing .288/.361/.407, numbers that fell after the veteran grounded out to end the Cubs’ first.
A quick second inning from Weaver in which the right-hander struck out two batters (one swinging and one looking) made it look like the Cubs would be in for a long night. In the third inning, however, Anthony Rizzo opened up the scoring, turning on a 1-1 pitch from Weaver and sending it into the right field stands.
Rizzo’s 14th home run of the year and second in as many games put the Cubs in front 1-0, a lead that would not last long.
That slim lead would not hold due to the lack of effectiveness from Cubs’ starter Mike Montgomery. Entering play, Montgomery had been solid in Yu Darvish‘s stead in the starting rotation. Across 10 starts and 56.2 innings, Montgomery was sporting a 3.02 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .237/.299/.336 slash line. To accompany those solid statistics, Montgomery had not allowed more than eight hits and four earned runs in a start this season. On Friday, however, those numbers changed.
Like Weaver, Montgomery allowed two singles in the first inning, but was able to work around the traffic, inducing a 4-6-3 double play off the bat of Jose Martinez to end the Cardinals’ threat.
Unlike Weaver, Montgomery was not able to settle into much of a groove as the game progressed. In the second inning, the Cubs’ southpaw put the first two men on-base before getting a line-out, strikeout and ground out to once again put an end to the threat.
The third and fourth innings would not be so kind to Montgomery. A one out double and triple tied the game at 1-1 while an RBI single off the bat of Martinez gave the Cardinals their first lead of the game. While Montgomery was able to stop the bleeding with a 6-4-3 double play after yet another single, the flood gates opened in the fourth.
St. Louis wasted little time in building their lead in the fourth inning as Dexter Fowler and Yairo Munoz clubbed back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners with no outs. A spectacular play by Montgomery on a bunt by Weaver nabbed Fowler at the plate for the first out of the inning, keeping the game a one-run affair.
Despite a rocky fourth frame, the Cubs squeezed one more inning out of Montgomery, one more inning an already tired bullpen would not have to eat. The left-hander’s final line looked like this: five innings, 12 hits (season high), five earned runs (season high as a starter), one walk and three strikeouts on 93 pitches.
While this start was not his best, Montgomery has been a very important piece to the puzzle for the Cubs this season. Without his ability to pitch effectively in the starting rotation, who knows where the Cubs would be. Now, with Cole Hamels in the fold, Montgomery could go back into the bullpen in order to better manage his innings moving forward. The flip side to that is Montgomery staying in the starting rotation with struggling Tyler Chatwood heading to the bullpen.
Whatever happens, the addition of Hamels adds depth to a starting rotation that has not lived up to the hype so far this season.
Despite trailing late, the Cubs tacked on their second run of the game in the sixth inning on a solo home run from Baez. That long ball gives Baez 20 on the year, meaning he is solidly on pace to break his career-best 23 home runs in 2017. In addition, that home run notched Baez’s 75th RBI of the season, matching his total over 145 games in 2017.
Baez’s home run also represented the final run Weaver would give up through six solid frames. The right-hander’s final line looked like this: six innings, eight hits, two earned runs, zero walks and five strikeouts on 81 pitches.
With the loss, the Cubs drop to 60-43 while the Cardinals improve to 52-51 on the season.
Next Up For The Cubs
The Cubs will continue their three-game set with the Cardinals on Saturday, July 28 at 3:05 p.m. at Wrigley Field. Taking the ball for the Cubs will be Jose Quintana (9-6, 3.87 ERA). The 29-year-old southpaw has been brilliant over his last three starts. Spanning 19 innings, Quintana owns a 1.89 ERA and has struck out 13 batters while walking nine and allowing just 14 hits.
Opposing Quintana on the mound will be Miles Mikolas (10-3, 2.82 ERA). Mikolas has been very good this season for St. Louis, recording an ERA a full run lower than his career mark at this point in the season. Despite that, the Cubs were able to defeat the Cardinals on July 22, Mikolas’ last season. In that game, the right-hander went five innings and allowed two earned runs on six hits.
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