Here is the thing you need to know about Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner: He’s fast.
Here is the thing Chicago Cubs catcher — excuse me, former catcher — Miguel Montero wants you to know about Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta: He’s slow.
Here is the thing about fast baseball players taking advantage of slow pitchers: It generally gets blamed on the catcher who, unlike his pitcher, is actually facing the would-be thief on base.
And here is the thing about Miguel Montero: He was DFA’d by the Cubs on Wednesday afternoon.
On Tuesday night, with Arrieta pitching and Montero catching, Turner stole four bases en route to Washington’s 6–1 victory over the defending World Series champs. This made Montero, plus innumerable blue-and-red fans in the stands, who were taught last fall to dream and are now being rewarded with people telling them they don’t get to complain about losses for another 108 years, very upset.
Montero said some things afterward, most of which rhyme with “snot my fault” and “Blake Barrieta is slow.” Neither Cubs management nor Montero’s teammates apparently took kindly to this characterization of Tuesday’s events, and now Montero is out of a job. Which is to say that Trea Turner was so fast that he made Miguel Montero so mad that he got shitcanned.
This is a remarkable chain of events. Let’s look at the dissolution of the Cubs’ night and Montero’s happiness, theft by theft.
Stolen Base No. 1: First Inning, Turner on First
OK, so Trea Turner hits a single and then steals a base off you in the first inning. That’s not so bad: Before Tuesday, Turner had 28 steals this season, a bit shy of one for every other game he’s played in. If you face the Nationals, the odds are good that Turner will nick a base off you at some point; over the course of a series, he could easily do it twice. Statcast says he’s the 17th-fastest runner in the league; he has yet to play in the majors for a full season and is already setting records. Steals are bound to happen.
If you’re Montero — or Arrieta, for that matter — you don’t want Washington’s fastest runner on second with nobody out, but it’s not exactly a disaster. Montero’s throw hit the dirt before rolling into Javier Báez, which, yeah, not ideal. But still: It happens.
Stolen Base No. 2: First Inning, Turner on Second
The Cubs, bless their oft-broken and thus extraordinarily excitable hearts, have bad slogans. I’m sorry; they do. “Fly the W” is all right, but then there is the reprehensible and inexplicable “That’s Cub,” endorsed by the team as the official motto of 2017. In 2015 Montero came up with his own too-literal rallying cry: “We are good.” Get it? The Cubs: They’re not bad. They are the opposite of bad: good.
The problem with “we are good” is that, apart from sounding like it was created by a panel of second-graders on a sugar comedown, it opens the door to mean people like me making fun when the Cubs are not good, which even great teams frequently are not. The 2017 Cubs have struggled: They’re just a game behind the first-place Brewers in the NL Central as of Wednesday afternoon, but their 39–38 record is something less than inspiring after last season’s best-in-baseball 103–58 campaign.
So then Turner stole a second time. “Turner could easily steal twice in one game” is not the same as “he is probably going to do it twice in the same inning, and that inning is going to be the first.” This is demoralizing.
Still, though: Turner has stolen twice in a game three times already this season. Earlier this month, he did it three times against the ailing Orioles, and on June 18 he did it four times against the Mets. Sure, maybe this is the kind of year on the North Side where Kyle Schwarber gets sent down to the minors and .500 begins to feel like an accomplishment. But it’s definitely not a Mets kind of year, right? Right?
Stolen Base No. 3: Third Inning, Turner on First
Montero is 33. Last season the Cubs carried three catchers: him, the since-retired Old Man David Ross, and Willson Contreras. Even Tuesday morning, Contreras, 25, was unambiguously the future: He’s been a reliable bat since he was called up last season, even receiving a tryout with Arrieta, long Montero’s partner. “Moving forward, we thought it would be a good idea to get it done now,” explained manager Joe Maddon last August. “Everybody is on board. So we will take a test drive and see what it looks like.”
Moving forward. See what it looks like. Montero, meanwhile, entered 2017 on the final season of a five-year, $60 million contract with the Cubs. He pinch-hit a grand slam in Game 1 of last year’s NLCS against the Dodgers, but that came after batting .216 over the regular season. Coming into Tuesday night’s game, Montero’s caught-stealing rate was just 1-for-25 — and even then, the successful attempt was a pickoff by Mike Montgomery that turned into a caught-stealing and was credited to Montero only due to baseball’s weird rule definitions. After Tuesday night, Montero’s 3.1 percent caught-stealing rate is the second-lowest of 2,813 catcher seasons on record. Contreras, meanwhile, is 16-for-47 and capable of things like this (against another Turner):
… and this, in which he picked off three Pirates runners in one game. Those throws came with Jon Lester, He To Whom First Base Must Not Be Named, on the mound. There was never much reason for Montero to feel overwhelming optimism on June 27, 2017. With Turner up to three steals — and reporters in the press box overhead preparing, undoubtedly, to ask him how and why they happened on his watch — our man can’t have been feeling great.
Stolen Base No. 4: Third Inning, Turner on Second
Unless you’re playing the Orioles, you probably do not want to hear about the franchise records of the opposing team in the midst of a game. With this fourth steal, Turner tied the Nationals/Expos record for stolen bases in a single game, his second time doing so this season. He did this in the third inning. By the end of the night, three additional stolen bases by other Nationals would amount to the most steals in a single game in franchise history.
After the game Montero turned on Arrieta and the rest of Chicago’s pitching staff. He told reporters that the problem was that his pitchers just didn’t give him the time to catch runners making a move. “So it’s just like, ‘Yeah, OK, Miggy can’t throw nobody out.’ Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anybody on. … that’s the reason they were running left and right today, because they know [Arrieta] was slow to the plate. Simple as that.”
His now-former teammates, meanwhile, do not seem terribly distraught about the change: “When you point fingers you’re a selfish player,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “We have another catcher that throws everyone out.”
Montero, in other words, is Not Cub: neither a lovable nor loving loser. But he at least will always be certain of one thing — Cub or no, #WeAreGood.