The start to the 2014 season has seen some good, and bad with the Chicago Cubs pitching. Statistically as a team, they sit about middle of the National League. Travis Wood has carried over last season’s success so far this year. Jeff Samardzija, with rumors constantly swirling about his future in Chicago, continues to be dominant. And newcomer Jason Hammel has been a pleasant surprise in claiming two of the four Cubs’ victories.
In the bullpen, last year’s Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon continues to show more confidence with each outing. And Justin Grimm, acquired in the Matt Garza deal has settled in nicely as well. But for the most part, the rest of the staff leaves a lot of questions to be answered. Let’s take a look at a few of the main concerns to this point.
Do we keep running Edwin Jackson out every fifth day?
I was very concerned with the signing of Edwin Jackson from the start. A journeyman to this point, the main component of his signing was he is an innings eater, and young enough to be part of the “success” following the rebuilding process. In two seasons with the Cubs, Jackson is 8-19, with a 5.08 ERA. He’ll make about $13 million this year. Those don’t really work out to me.
Jake Arrieta is possibly nearing a return according to Cubs beat reporter Carrie Muskat. If and when Arrieta returns, how he is handled is yet to be seen. Personally, I believe Jackson should be moved to the bullpen. In two seasons, between Carlos Villanueva and E-Jax, Villanueva has shown me more, even with some rough outings as a starter. I eventually see Arrieta in the rotation. For who? We shall see.
Oh 9th inning, why do you hate the Cubs so much?
I don’t believe we expected the Cubs’ closer to have 30+ saves, but making a change after only a few chances? Not good. The signing of Jose Vera was an interesting one. Never a full-time closer, handed the keys to the Cubs’ ninth innings. No competition in spring. Hmm. Hindsight.
Veras’ stumble is troubling, but the Cubs are not without options. Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, and possibly Rondon could all be considered. A bullpen rarely ends in the same state it started a season. But the Cubs’ pen will need some early shuffling, and has already seen some. I feel like the Veras situation is very similar to the Carlos Marmol debacle. Lost confidence, moved to “low stress” situations, possibly to be reinserted to the closer role. That route hasn’t worked before, time to recalculate the GPS and go a different way.
Will the real James Russell please stand up?
James Russell has been a solid part of the Cubs bullpen the last two seasons. Generally used as a “situational” lefty, he’s done very well as the Cubs’ lone left-hander most of the time. This year he’s joined by Wesley Wright, giving the Cubs a second option. Russell’s numbers don’t look horrendous, (0-1, 3.86) but a WHIP of 2.14 is not comforting. And twice Russell has surrendered runs without recording an out this season. My concern is opponents have seen him so frequently as the only left-hander they have a better eye for him. Hopefully it’s just a tough start, and Russell is able to level out, but we need him in the middle of the pen to be successful.
There are plenty of questions around the pitching staff. And we will continue to keep an eye on it all season. For now the Cubs pitching, even with all of this, has been the “bright” spot, because scoring runs on offense has not been a productive endeavor so far.
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