Mike Montgomery deals aces as Cubs roll past Reds for fifth straight

SHARE Mike Montgomery deals aces as Cubs roll past Reds for fifth straight
SHARE Mike Montgomery deals aces as Cubs roll past Reds for fifth straight

CINCINNATI — What’s gotten into the Cubs these days?

Is it the soft schedule the last week or so? Their annual run of hot August nights?

It’s certainly not great health.

Even more certain: This isn’t anything close to the Cubs team we saw languish in the first half and stumble to the All-Star break with a losing record.

On a night they subbed for their injured Opening Day starter and played without the reigning National League MVP, the Cubs rolled to a 9-3 rout of the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.

Mike Montgomery, who pitched six scoreless innings in place of Jon Lester, described a much different team than he saw in the first half.

“We grew from that,” said Montgomery after his best start of the year. “We struggled in the first half. You can go one of two ways: You can struggle in the second half or you can learn from your mistakes and get better. And I think every guy individually has played a big part and done their work and gotten better.”

Montgomery, a sinkerball left-hander, walked just one and recorded 11 groundouts in a textbook Montgomery effort as the Cubs ran their winning streak to five games.

“We knew we weren’t going to be able to repeat last year,” Montgomery said. “And I think in the first half of the year maybe you have some of that residual effect. Now it’s all about getting to the playoffs. And I think we’re completely over last year and now we’re in a good place and having fun and trying to win a game every night.”

The Cubs, 25-12 since the All-Star break, improved to 7-2 so far during this run of 13 consecutive games against last-place teams.

With Milwaukee’s loss earlier in the day in San Francisco, the Cubs extended their division lead to a season-high 3½ games over the second-place Brewers.

With Kris Bryant on the bench for the night after suffering a bruised left hand when hit by a pitch in the ninth inning Tuesday, the Cubs went to Bryant’s personal understudy, Tommy La Stella.

La Stella drew a bases-loaded walk during the Cubs’ three-run first and capped a five-run fourth with his third homer of the season, a two-run shot to right.

“Honestly, when he goes down, it’s a big hit for the offense,” La Stella said. “But we had it rolling pretty much 1 through 9 today.”

Sure. But La Stella has made a season out of acting as Bryant’s stunt double for a day.

He filled in June 16 on a scheduled day off for Bryant and went 2-for-4 with a double. He came off the bench July 19 when Bryant hurt his hand on a slide in Atlanta and went 2-for-3 with a walk and homer.

Counting Wednesday, La Stella is 5-for-10 with two homers, a double, two walks and four RBI in just those three Bryant off days.

La Stella downplays the role.

But there’s no downplaying the roll the Cubs are on through this stretch — they are 9-3 in their last 12 games, including a series win over the playoff-contending Diamondbacks in Arizona.

“The talent’s always been there,” La Stella said. “I feel like in the first half it was just kind of collectively we were all going through a little bit of a down period. I think anytime you run into that it’s going to be difficult to win games. It’s starting to turn for us right now at the right time. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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