After Losing Hammel, Cubs Search for Fifth Starter Begins and Ends with Mike Montgomery

Once the Cubs officially released Jason Hammel, the next question became ‘Who takes the fifth spot in the rotation?’ At the beginning of the 2016 regular season, Kyle Hendricks was the fifth starter. Well, after a year that may possibly yield Hendricks a Cy Young Award, he’s looking more like the Cubs number two starter. That would’ve put Hammel in the five spot.

For the Cubs, they won’t have to look any further than Mike Montgomery in order to determine who slots into the fifth spot in the rotation to start the 2017 regular season. And there’s much less doubt about this selection than you might think.

Montgomery has started 23 games in his major league career dating back to 2015. Prior to being traded to the Cubs in 2016, he started a total of 18 games with Seattle and he posted a 4.44 ERA. Subsequent to the trade to Chicago, Mike started five games for the Cubs from mid-August through mid-September and he posted a 3.33 ERA in those games. For his career, he has a 4.23 ERA as a starter. While that may not seem all that impressive consider that Jason Hammel’s career ERA is 4.42, albeit over an 11 year MLB career compared to only 2 years for Montgomery.

The 2016 postseason is really where Mike started to stand out and where he separates himself from being just a possibility to start to a likely starter for the Cubs in 2017. With 14 1/3 innings pitched in the postseason, Montgomery logged the second most innings pitched out of the bullpen, behind only Aroldis Chapman who threw 15 2/3 innings. Yep, he threw only 1 1/3 innings less than the Cubs most valuable reliever – or at least the man who you’d have thought was the Cubs most valuable reliever.

In fact, in the postseason whenever there was a key spot that needed middle inning relief, Joe Maddon called on Mike Montgomery time and time again. He pitched in 2 NLDS games, 4 NLCS games and 5 World Series games. So out of 17 postseason games, Mike pitched in 11 of them. Wow.

Here’s a list of the games Mike didn’t get into in the playoffs:

  • NLDS Game 1 (W) – 8 inning masterpiece by Jon Lester, followed by Chapman
  • NLDS Game 4 (W) – a game that got out of hand for the Cubs early followed by an epic comeback in the top of the 9th
  • NLCS Game 5 (W) – 7 inning gem by Jon Lester, followed by Strop and Chapman
  • NLCS Game 6 (W) – 7 1/3 inning shut down by Hendricks followed by Chapman
  • WS Game 1 (L) – Cubs got shut down by Corey Kluber
  • WS Game 5 (W) –  Cubs won 3-2 behind Lester and a 2 2/3 inning save by Chapman

The theme throughout the playoffs, when the Cubs were in position to win the game, was to get the game to Chapman. That happened when the Cubs’ starting pitcher went deep and handed the game to Chapman or when the Cubs needed to put in a middle-reliever in order to get to Chapman. Only once in the entire postseason, when the Cubs were in the lead and looking to bring in middle-relief, did the team go away from Montgomery. That was in game 5 of the NLCS when Maddon brought in Strop, who came in with an 8-1 lead and gave up two doubles and a hit-by-pitch which led to one run scoring.

Mike Montgomery represented the absolute best option for middle-relief the Cubs had during the entire postseason. He’s been successful at starting games at the major league level. He will most certainly get the chance to start more, most likely as the Cubs’ fifth starter in the rotation, in 2017. The big question becomes, who will the Cubs look to when they need a trusty middle-reliever come 2017 regular season and beyond? That likely gets addressed via trade or perhaps free agent signing. Also look for Rob Zastryzny to get a full season of work coming out of the Cubs’ bullpen next year.

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