The Chicago Cubs’ difficult season continued Tuesday night with a 6-1 loss to the Washington Nationals. And somehow, the big news from the game wasn’t another bad start from Jake Arrieta. Catcher Miguel Montero was behind the dish, and in the four innings Arrieta was in the game he allowed seven stolen bases.
And now, the Cubs are designating the catcher for assignment. While the stolen bases may have been a factor, Montero’s quotes after the game seem to have played a larger role.
Seven stolen bases is a lot for one game, and it’s even more for just four innings. The main culprit on the Nationals side was Trea Turner, who stole four all on his own. As for who was responsible on the Cubs side, Montero had some thoughts about that after the game, via CSN Chicago.
“It really sucks because the stolen bases go on me,” Montero said. “When you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time. It’s just like: ‘Yeah, OK, Miggy can’t throw nobody out.’ Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anybody on. It’s tough, because it doesn’t matter how much work I put in.
“If I don’t get a chance to throw, that’s the reason why they were running left and right today, because they know he was slow to the plate. Simple as that. It’s a shame that it’s my fault because I didn’t throw anybody out.”
Montero didn’t mention Arrieta by name, but after the Nationals ran wild on them, he couldn’t be talking about anyone else. Montero went farther than that, though. He issued a personal indictment of a part of the Cubs pitching philosophy: the lack of focus on keeping baserunners close. Montero used former Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel, who is now with the Kansas City Royals, as an example.
“We talk every year in spring training, but it’s frustrating, because it seems nobody really cares about it,” Montero said. “Like: ‘OK, yeah, I got to pitch. And if they run, they run, I don’t care.’
“Perfect example: We got Salvador Perez, the best throwing catcher in the game, and Jason Hammel’s got 10 stolen bases and only one caught stealing, so what does that tell you? They didn’t give him a chance.”
Montero’s frustration is easy to understand, especially since the Cubs have been struggling. That means that everything is going to be over-scrutinized. And the Cubs’ philosophy on holding baserunners is well known — and teams are going to take advantage. Especially a team that has speedster Trea Turner on its roster, who has 32 stolen bases in 66 games.
And Arrieta certainly didn’t give Montero much help on Tuesday night. Beyond being slow to the plate, he allowed six hits and six (!) walks. The best way to limit base stealing (and scoring) is to limit the number of runners on base, and Arrieta did the opposite of that.
But it’s also fair to point out that Montero has been pretty bad behind the plate in 2017. He’s 1-for-31 in throwing out baserunners, and if he continues at this pace, ESPN’s Eddie Matz reported that Montero would have the “lowest caught-stealing percentage for a Cubs catcher since at least 1969.”
Montero may be upset with Arrieta and the rest of the Cubs pitchers for not holding runners on, but he knows he bears responsibility, which he admitted during his postgame comments.
“It always goes to the catcher and I’m the bad guy there,” Montero said. “It really sucks, but it is what it is and I got to take full responsibility. But in the end, I would like a little help.”
A little help is something all the Cubs probably want at this point. They have a record of 38-39, they’re second in the NL Central (though just one game behind the Milwaukee Brewers), and 6.5 back in the NL wild-card race. The team’s inability to find a groove has turned small baseball problems into big ones. It doesn’t help that everyone is using the Cubs’ magical 2016 season as a measuring stick, because there was almost no way they were going to repeat that. But their struggles are real.
And it doesn’t get much realer than Anthony Rizzo giving his thoughts on Montero’s comments, which he did on ESPN Radio Chicago on Wednesday.
Rizzo on Miggy's comments:
"When you point fingers you're a selfish player. We have another catcher that throws everyone out."
— ESPN 1000 (@ESPN1000) June 28, 2017
Whoa. Those are some strong words from Rizzo, and he wasn’t done.
"This is all over TV last night. Now I gotta talk about it today. We win as 25 lose as 25. To call teammates out? What’s the point?"
— ESPN 1000 (@ESPN1000) June 28, 2017
Rizzo’s just speaking his mind like Montero did on Tuesday, and he’s got every right to be annoyed. But it’s hard not to see the irony in Rizzo scolding Montero for publicly calling out a teammate by publicly calling out Montero for doing it.
Ultimately, Rizzo’s complaints won out. The Cubs called up 23-year-old catcher Victor Caratini on Wednesday morning. A few minutes later, reports surfaced that Montero would be designated for assignment. In three seasons with the Cubs, the 33-year-old Montero hit .242/.342/.395 over 799 plate appearances.
It feels like the Cubs are close to a complete meltdown right now. If there’s a silver lining to all this, it’s that the Cubs still have 85 games left to play. But with every passing game, the time left to fix these issues is ticking down.
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