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Just Sayin’: Will this Cubs core ever match Mike Montgomery’s ’16 championship moment?

Montgomery’s departure symbolizes a championship window that seems to have become stuck. The opening isn’t so narrow that the Cubs are without hope of a return to the World Series. Yet, it isn’t wide enough for anyone to feel truly confident they’ll squeeze through.

World Series - Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians - Game Seven
Mike Montgomery watched the final out of the 2016 World Series made at first base.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

During spring training of 2017, the question was put to Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks: Who’s next around here to “pull a Hendricks”?

In other words: Who would be the next guy to blow up into a star as Hendricks had in 2016, when he led the majors in ERA and finished third in NL Cy Young voting?

“That’s easy for me,” Hendricks said as the Cubs prepared to defend their first World Series title in 108 years. “It’s Mike Montgomery. I think he’s got everything he needs to be a great pitcher.”

Hendricks envisioned a move to the starting rotation happening for his left-handed fellow Californian.

“It has to happen eventually,” he said. “And when it does, I know he’ll be ready.”

As it turns out, Montgomery never fully blossomed over three years in Chicago. He performed admirably enough, despite limited opportunities, but in the end his time with the Cubs was defined by a single moment: inducing a Michael Martinez groundout for the final out of Game 7 against the Indians in ’16.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It was a hell of a moment.

But Monday’s trade of Montgomery to the Royals for backup catcher Martin Maldonado comes at a time when we’re still asking about a handful of Cubs: When will they blossom? Will they ever blow up?

That means Kyle Schwarber. The home runs are great. The hard work to become a passable left fielder is appreciated. But is there any more “there” there?

It means Carl Edwards Jr. Once he was a closer in waiting. Now he’s a question mark for any bullpen role.

It means Albert Almora Jr. We know he can go get the ball in center field. But we knew that much about him a few years ago, didn’t we?

And does anyone even bother to wonder about Addison Russell’s upside anymore?

More broadly, Montgomery’s departure symbolizes a “championship window” that seems to have become stuck. The opening isn’t so narrow that the Cubs are without hope of a return to the World Series with this talented core. Yet, it isn’t wide enough for anyone to feel truly confident they’ll squeeze through.

Is this where the drought-breaking Cubs are stuck forever? Are they stuck on a singular moment of blissful glory, a la the 1985 Bears?

Not that there’s anything terribly wrong with that, if so. Any Cubs fan will agree that the “W” flag never flew — not before, not since — quite like it did on that rainy night in Cleveland, as Montgomery jumped up and down amid a crush of giddy teammates, both arms stretched high above his head in ultimate triumph.

It was a hell of a moment. Montgomery gets to take it with him, wherever he goes.

But will there be another one? The question will linger above Cubdom awhile longer.

JUST SAYIN’

What happens first: (a) a Cy Young for Montgomery in Kansas City, (b) an MVP for Maldonado in Chicago or (c) a series victory for the Cubs against the Reds?

Discuss.

• More proof White Sox starting pitcher Lucas Giolito has arrived: a Sun-Times email alert that popped into my inbox after his “rough outing” Monday night in a loss to the Royals.

Giolito allowed three runs in six innings, otherwise known as a quality start. In 2018, it would’ve been grounds for a parade.

• Am I the only one who’s still trying to come down from the high of Sunday’s Novak Djokovic-Roger Federer Wimbledon final?

ESPN called it “one of the best” finals in tournament history. Fox Sports called it “epic.” The New York Times called it … also “epic.”

OK, fine, I missed all 4 hours, 57 minutes of the telecast. So sue me. But I swear my neck still hurts from all the back-and-forth of following the action on Twitter!

• Have the rest of the Rockets officially aligned themselves behind either James Harden or Russell Westbrook yet?

• Early odds to win the 2020 NBA Finals:

Clippers: 7/2.

Bucks: 11/2.

Lakers: 6/1.

Oh, and the Bulls: 300/1. Which also happens to be the odds of Harden and Westbrook still being on speaking terms this time next year.

• The college football enthusiasts in town are well aware that Big Ten Media Days are upon us. Half the league’s coaches will step to the podium at the Hilton Chicago on Thursday, with the other half doing so on Friday. No truth to the rumor a third day will be tacked on for the customary claims of innocence by former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.