The defending world champion Cubs sent Brett Anderson, at a cost of $3.5 million, to the mound Saturday night at Wrigley Field.
The Yankees countered with Jordan Montgomery, a 24-year-old rookie making the fifth start of his young career. He’s earning pocket change by MLB standards.
Guess who tapped out first?
It wasn’t close. Anderson stuck around just long enough to record one out in the first inning and was tattooed by the Yankees for six hits and five runs. The stage then was left to Montgomery, who had two choices ahead of him.
Wilt under the weight of the generous 5-0 lead and allow the dangerous Cubs to claw their way back. Or rise to the occasion and stomp out any shred of hope for the North Siders.
Montgomery picked the latter, as the budding talents do, and showed why the Yankees believe their No. 5 starter has the ability to be much more than that. If Montgomery can control the heavy-hitting Cubs in their own ballpark, it’s a game-changer for a team that rapidly has progressed from rebuilding to already reaching the top of the AL East.
While it’s true the Yankees blitzed the Cubs, 11-6, on the strength of 14 hits, including home runs by Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks, Montgomery made sure the Cubs stayed dead from the jump. He allowed only three hits and three runs (two earned) in 6 2⁄3 innings to trim his ERA to 3.81. That was his longest outing of the season, and in three of the five, he’s completed at least six innings.
“You don’t get too relaxed,” Montgomery said of the quick cushion. “That’s still a really good lineup. They can really swing it.”
Not against him, apparently. On this night, Montgomery surrendered only one hit through the first four innings. He even bailed out Didi Gregorius when the shortstop’s error nearly let the Cubs’ mini-rally snowball in the fifth.
“I think it should be a positive,” Girardi said. “It should be a nice steppingstone for him.”
For those still wondering if the Yankees are for real, they’re as real as this rotation says they are. And with young upstarts such as Montgomery filling out a front five that includes the even younger Luis Severino (still 23), who will start Sunday night’s prime-time Wrigley finale, we’re no longer talking about the Yankees’ future. They’re a serious threat right now.
Look what the Cubs did to end their title drought. They already had the young homegrown positional stars. Theo Epstein, the curse-breaker extraordinaire, filled in the rotation by shelling out for Jon Lester ($155M) and John Lackey ($32M) along with trading for Jake Arrieta ($15M) and Kyle Hendricks ($760K).
Joe Maddon piloted that Epstein-assembled group into Chicago immortality and now sees similar characteristics in these Yankees — provided that Brian Cashman finds enough reliable arms to stabilize the rotation.
“I think that’s a natural narrative to be created,” Maddon said. “I don’t know that it’s exactly the same. But if their pitching gets rolling, I think their success is predicated on that.”
The Yankees’ rotation has performed surprisingly well despite recent clunkers from its eldest member, CC Sabathia, who has a 10.43 ERA in his last three starts. Heading into Saturday night, they were tied with the A’s for the AL’s lowest WHIP (1.22) and tied with the Mariners for the lowest BB/9 ratio (2.61). Their 8.70 K/9 mark was fourth.
Beyond Montgomery, the Yankees have Luis Cessa and Chad Green at Triple-A Scranton, with Justus Sheffield, the power lefthander, still developing at Double-A Trenton. Is it enough? For the Yankees, at 19-9, it’s looking like a decent place to start.