Entering the season, the bullpen was possibly the most obvious strength on the Chicago Cubs’ roster. With closer Hector Rondon, and hard-throwing right-handed set-up men Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez, Jason Motte and Justin Grimm, the Cubs seemed to have unlimited upside in the bullpen.
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While that still may be the case, early season injuries have really held them back. Grimm started the season on the disabled list with an injured elbow, and Ramirez suffered a shoulder injury just a couple of weeks into the season. At the time, most thought the Cubs would be fine, but middle relief quickly became a huge problem.
Rondon has been a lights-out closer, and while Strop has had some recent struggles, he is a very good eighth inning option. If they can get to the eighth inning with a lead, the Cubs are going to come away with a victory much more often than not.
Unfortunately, getting to that eighth inning has been a struggle. Through 27 games, Cubs’ starting pitchers have pitched at least seven innings only seven times. Unsurprisingly, all of those games have ended in a win for the Cubs.
However, it is not all the starter’s fault. They cannot be expected to have success into the eighth inning time and time again. Middle relievers are always an important part to a ball club, and Cubs’ combination of Motte, Phil Coke, Brian Schlitter and Edwin Jackson have not gotten the job done in the early going.
On Wednesday, the Cubs welcomed Grimm back to the MLB roster, as he recovered from his elbow injury earlier than expected.
Grimm is a hard-throwing right-hander who throws in the mid-90s and showcases an impressive slider. He had a lot of success in middle relief last season, and really started to come on late in the year, sporting a 1.93 ERA in 27 relief appearances in the second half.
Grimm made his first appearance of the season on Thursday, and he struck out both batters he faced. He was charged with a wild pitch that allowed a run to score but looked very sharp in his short relief appearance.
Bridging the gap from the starting rotation to the back-end of the bullpen has been the biggest problem that the Cubs have had in the early part of this season. Grimm’s return comes at a great time, as he has the talent to fix their weakness in middle relief.