Despite the struggles of the team’s relievers early on this season, the Chicago Cubs remain very much in the race for a postseason berth, clinging to the second Wild Card berth in the National League.
However, for Joe Maddon‘s club to contend with the high-flying St. Louis Cardinals and the white-hot Pittsburgh Pirates, the bullpen will have to take a step in the right direction.
That could very well begin with the arrival of veteran right-hander Rafael Soriano, who inked a minor league deal with the Cubs earlier in June.
The 13-year big league veteran likely won’t reach Chicago until around the All-Star Break in mid-July, though, as MLB.com’s Bruce Levine reported there are some issues that need to be ironed out beforehand.
With that in mind, the Cubs may have to make do with what they have internally for the next month or so – a troubling proposition for a team that is already employing a closer-by-committee approach in the ninth inning.
In Saturday’s win over Cincinnati, James Russell came on in the sixth inning, replacing starter Kyle Hendricks after a nearly-three-hour rain delay. To say he struggled would be a major understatement.
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Russell did not record an out in the inning, erasing a 3-1 Cubs’ lead in the process. He allowed a leadoff single to Skip Schumaker before serving up the first long-ball of Eugenio Suarez‘s career. First baseman Joey Votto followed with a line-drive single, spelling the end of the lefty’s outing.
Motte has been particularly sharp of late, and could very well assume the mantle of closer in the coming weeks. Even the arrival of Soriano next month may not shake him from the ninth if he excels in the role he held with the Cardinals a few years back.
As for Soriano, who pitched last season with the Washington Nationals, he will join a bullpen that has a higher WHIP than the starting rotation (1.239 to 1.190) and a strikeout-to-walk ratio that leaves plenty to be desired (2.55).
The fact that it took this long for Soriano to latch on with a big league team is somewhat surprising to me personally, given the level of success he has had of-late.
Adding Soriano to the mix will no-doubt change the Cubs bullpen – but will it be for the better? Only time will tell.
The 35-year-old has racked up over 40 saves on three separate occasions since 2010, even closing out 32 games with the Nats last season before losing the closer’s job to Drew Storen.
His second-half splits weren’t exactly what the team expected from Soriano, as his earned run average ballooned from 0.97 to 6.48 after the Midsummer Classic, and his WHIP doubled.
Those struggles no-doubt played a determining role in the fact that Chicago landed Soriano on just a minor league deal.
Whether or not he will be the lights-out closer we saw during the first-half of 2014 in Washington remains to be seen, but the front office seems to think he has something left in the tank.
If Chicago catches lightning in a bottle and Rafael Soriano pitches like we’ve seen him do in the past, this bullpen could go from making fans uneasy in the late innings to one that allows us all to drink our beer for reasons other than nerves.
Of course, it could very well backfire, leaving us in the all-too-familiar position of clinging to the edge of our seats, praying to the baseball gods that we escape with a ‘W’.
Only time will tell.