When the Pittsburgh Pirates (67-62) threw out Javier Baez in the bottom of the 10th and 12th innings last night, the Chicago Cubs (83-47) could have chalked the game up as a loss and started planning for tomorrow.
They’ve won nine of the first twelve meetings against Pittsburgh coming into this game. And Joe Maddon told reporters recently that he wants to give his guys some extra rest down the stretch. So this scenario is easy to imagine.
But, as Tony Andracki of CSN Chicago wrote, “this 2016 team isn’t built that way.”
The Pirates scored their go-ahead run in the top of the 13th, leading the game at 7-6. Dexter Fowler. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo supplied singles in the bottom half and tied the game, leaving runners on first and second. Pittsburgh intentionally walked Ben Zobrist to set the bases loaded stage for Miguel Montero’s walk off single.
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Statistically speaking, Clint Hurdle made the right call to walk Zobrist for Montero. He’s hitting .199/.314/.637 in the first four months of the season, and he was a pinch hitter that inning. Having a 0.2 oWAR certainly, doesn’t make Montero any more feared either.
That’s what makes this hit so meaningful for the Cubs playoff aspirations.
Montero hits lefties (.212/.212/.490) better for average than he does righties (.195/.335/.667). This makes him a great matchup against Jeff Locke for the situation. His seven hits total seven bases achieved, suggesting that Montero is capable of producing a single when one base is all that’s needed.
Montero has had a dismal statistical season offensively. This is a major contributing factor to Willson Contreras getting more starts with the aces. Come playoff time, early runs are the best runs. Playing from behind will ultimately heighten an already immensely pressure-filled game.
Offense can hardly be sacrificed for defense.
He is still one of the top-5 pitch framers in the league, that contribution alone won’t be enough to validate anything other than spot starts. But, Montero will surely find significant situational playing time.
Contreras’ versatility defensively gives Maddon immense flexibility with when Montero can enter a game he doesn’t start. Delivering a game winner after sitting for the first five hours of last night’s game certainly, strengthens Maddon’s advantage.
Some might see Montero as a dead spot in the lineup, but for the Cubs, he is a perfect candidate for situational hitting scenarios.
Playing the matchup game is an integral part of winning any playoff series. If you find a weakness in your opponent, you play off of it. Montero showed that he is capable of taking care of business whenever his name is called. Even if the numbers are stacked against him.