Lately the Chicago Cubs are worried whenever they have to turn to their bullpen late in a ballgame. The past two weeks or so have resulted in several blown leads and losses for the boys in blue, and have raised several questions about the effectiveness of their relievers.
However, the bullpen is about to become a source of strength for the Cubs, especially with the signing of Craig Kimbrel. And that’s going to play into their long term plans for September and October. Basically, the Cubs weakness now is going to be phenomenal later on in the season.
Postseason baseball has turned into a battle of bullpens. Looking around the league playoff contenders, they’re all formulating these “super” bullpens. And that’s what the Cubs just did, even if the results aren’t there yet. In fact, they could realistically be one of the top three relief corps come October, barring injury.
Take a look at their depth chart. They have four legitimate late-inning pitchers that they can use at any point to close out the games that really count. Brandon Kintzler, Pedro Strop, Kimbrel and Brandon Morrow have all had experience pitching in the 9th inning of the most important games, and have success at it. It effectively shrinks the game to five innings, and in October, every single out counts.
Morrow, who was an All-Star caliber reliever/closer for both the Dodgers and the Cubs, was the closer for Chicago during the first half of the 2018 season. He was going to be the full-time closer for Chicago, until he hit the injured list and had offseason elbow surgery. Unfortunately, he was shut down at the end of April and there is no definitive timetable for when he is going to come back. But when he does come back, the Cubs bullpen is going to be leaps and bounds better.
Pedro Strop has been arguably the Cubs best reliever since they started being competitive year in and year out. Ever since coming over to the Cubs, and becoming a full-time member of their bullpen in 2014, Strop has had an ERA lower than 3.00 in every single season. That’s on top of being used over 50 times, often surpassing 60 appearances, cementing the fact he is one of Joe Maddon’s most reliable members. He was a big part of their World Series team, and he continues to prove why he will be called upon in the most dangerous scenarios.
What hasn’t Kimbrel done? The fastest pitcher to reach 300 saves in his career, he also won the World Series with the Boston Red Sex last season, proving that he will thrive in the most pressure packed situations. He was signed recently, and still needs time to get back to pitching speed, but there’s no doubt that he’s going to be used heavily come October. It’s just a matter of if Joe is going to use him as the closer.
Kintzler, who also spent time as a closer in the American League with the Minnesota Twins, offers the Cubs yet another power arm. Regularly throwing in the high 90s, Kintzler was acquired last season, and struggled a bit with the Cubs. However, he has turned it around this season to the tune of a 2.25 ERA in 32 games.
The bottom line is simple: The Cubs are going to be stacked in their bullpen. In addition to these arms, they are going to have Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek, Tyler Chatwood and Mike Montgomery, the latter of which saved the final game of the 2016 World Series. They have experience, they have power and they have the ability to be one of the most dominant bullpens come October. Now it’s up to Maddon to use them effectively, and hope that everyone heals from their injuries.