Yesterday, the Cubs took some advice from Ernie and played two games against the Dodgers at Wrigley Field.
The first was a frustrating ninth-inning loss started by the Cubs’ fifth starter Tyler Chatwood, and the second was a fun (well, eventually) walk-off win started by the Cubs’ fill-in starter, Mike Montgomery. Cubs fans had already long begun comparing the two starters and trying to decipher the Cubs intentions once Yu Darvish returns from the disabled list, but those conversations were amplified on day when both guys started just hours apart, with Darvish moving to the next stage in his rehab.
To be sure, their final lines weren’t all that dissimilar yesterday:
Chatwood: 5.0 IP, 2H, 1ER, 5BB, 6Ks
Montgomery: 6.0 IP, 5H, 1ER, 4BB, 5Ks
But Montgomery’s start (58 GS) was still better than Chatwood’s (51 GS) by game score, and even with that in mind I think we can probably all agree that Chatwood was overperforming against the Dodgers (thanks in large part to a generous strike zone), while Montgomery was underperforming – at least relative to the expectations he’s set for himself.
#Cubs starters with 5+ innings and 1 or fewer runs allowed in first 5 starts of season (1908-present)
Mike Montgomery, 2018
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 20, 2018
So we ask again … what are the Cubs going to do when Yu Darvish returns? Well, if there isn’t an injury, the options are pretty straightforward when you think about it:
- Tyler Chatwood stays in the rotation, Mike Montgomery goes back to the bullpen (five-man rotation).
- Mike Montgomery stays in the rotation, Tyler Chatwood goes to the bullpen, DL, or somewhere else (five-man rotation).
- Both guys stay in the rotation, Brett becomes very happy. Everyone at Bleacher Nation gets a raise (six-man rotation).
But if you were hoping Maddon would tip his hand after yesterday’s double-header, you’ll be disappointed. Here’s what Maddon had to say after the game via The Athletic: “We’ll just wait until everybody’s well and then we’ll make our decision.”
But we wanna know now!
Okay, so Maddon isn’t wrong in that, even as we’re inching ever closer to a Darvish return, these things almost always have a way of working themselves out. Maybe that’s a schedule-related revelation, an injury to one of these two pitchers or any of the other starters in the rotation, or something else. But there is certainly a chance that no decision will have to be made at all.
But if it does come down to it, the choice might not be as easy as we’d like to think. For one, Joe Maddon points out that, despite Montgomery’s success and desire to be a starter, he’s not entirely stretched out for a 190+ IP season. And because of that, it sounds like the Cubs are just going to have to play it by ear (Tribune): “The other thing about Monty you have to understand is how many innings has he pitched historically, and you got to be careful with that, too. It’s a big-picture thing. You wait, wait, wait, and then you make your best call.”
No disagreements here. If Montgomery really is this good, you’ll want him to help out this year, yes, but you can’t just ruin him for the future either (he’s under cheap team control for three years after this one).
And on the other hand, despite Chatwood’s struggles, he still has a TON of upside. You might not want to hear it, because of how frustrating his starts have been, but his stuff is still just so very killer. And, yes, the walks are so bad that everything else he does well sorta doesn’t matter right now, but if he can even come close to a reasonably usable walk rate, he could be very good. I mean seriously, a 55.9% ground ball rate, 12.5% infield fly ball rate, and a 29.3% hard-hit rate is indicative of someone who is nearly impossible to square up. And we KNOW the Cubs front office loves guys like that (Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, etc.).
Of course, option #3 (a six-man rotation) could help alleviate many of these concerns. With one more guy in the rotation, the number of starts goes down across the board while the amount of time between starts goes up for everyone in the rotation. That can not only improve the performance of the starters, it can also create deeper starts that improve rest and performance for the bullpen. Not every team has six starters with whom they’d really want to try something like this, but the Cubs very well may soon.
And to that end, Joe Maddon has begun mulling: “It’s also prudent to think about a six-man [rotation] in the second half when you start getting a little bit tired,” Maddon said. “What [Montgomery]’s doing right now is just setting us up for the rest of the year, setting himself up for the rest of the year.”
If I had to guess, then, based on what has been said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a six-man rotation starting in the second half. And as far as before the All-Star break goes, I’m not sure Darvish will be back in time to make it really matter. Sure, maybe he’ll sneak in a start before the break, but I doubt the Cubs will make any sweeping declarations before that happens.
So until then, we might not get a clear answer, but if you know Joe Maddon at all, you know playing it flexibly is alright by him. As he said about Montgomery (Daily Herald): “I just want him to continue to take start after start like this. Keep pitching like you want to remain in the rotation. Beautiful thing.”