With the first month of the season officially in the books, the Chicago Cubs have themselves their first winning record in the month of April since 2008, a year in which they won the N.L. Central (97-64) but were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
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So far this season we’ve witnessed this team battle back from multiple deficits as Miguel Montero and Chris Coghlan lead the team with three home runs a piece while helping their club claim multiple series wins. Although they enter this weekend’s series against the Milwaukee Brewers with a 12-8 record, the Cubs not only should have a couple more wins, but the top spot in the division as well.
Their starting pitching hasn’t been all that bad but their bullpen – despite their rank – struggled in several games that should have been won. After last night’s 8-1 blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs’ pen is ranked seventh in the league when it comes to earned run average with a 2.70 mark.
They recently demoted Brian Schlitter to Triple-A Iowa for outfielder Junior Lake after blowing two saves in 5 2/3 frames. Opposing hitters tagged him for six earned runs on 10 hits before he was sent back down to the minors. He was called up after reliever Justin Grimm was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a forearm injury.
Neil Ramirez is also on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation.
Former St. Louis Cardinal Jason Motte had back-to-back games where he allowed a combined five earned runs behind four hits and one home run but has hurled three scoreless outings in his last three appearances for Joe Maddon. Another new face within this bullpen is former Detroit Tiger Phil Coke.
Coke was signed on a minor league deal during Cactus League play and appeared to be a long-shot to crack Maddon’s Opening Night roster. Sure enough, Coke found himself pitching against the Cardinals on Apr. 5.
Since then, Chicago’s seasoned reliever has given up 11 hits and five earned runs in six innings of work. Prior to last night’s game, Phil had three consecutive scoreless outings on the road against both the Pirates twice and the Reds once.
Not only did the Pirates extend their lead by hanging a four spot in the top of the sixth inning with Gonzalez Germen on the mound, but they managed to get two more off Coke in the ninth as well. This is something that Cubs fans, including the organization itself, want to get under control early on before a possible playoff push later on in the year.
Balfour (0-0, 6.23 ERA) has pitched for Joe Maddon on two occasions in his career from 2007-10, then again between 2014 before his former skipper jumped ship to the National League. He was recently released by the Rays on Apr. 18, the same day he gave up three earned runs to the New York Yankees.
The former closer nearly had a two-year deal in place with the Baltimore Orioles, but the deal fell through once issues came up during his physical in December of 2013 after spending several seasons with the Oakland Athletics.
Last season in Maddon’s final year with the Rays, Balfour posted a 4.91 ERA in 62 1/3 innings – his worst earned run average in five season. While a hasn’t been announced just yet, there’s a good chance the Cubs could end up rolling the dice on the 37-year-old considering how cheap his price tag should be compared to other guys on the market.