Chicago Cubs: Bullpen currently a team strength, not weakness

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Cubs pen no longer their Achilles heel

Just a little over a month ago, the question wasn’t could the

Chicago Cubs

compete all year for the NL Central, but what can they do about their bullpen to even stay relevant? For the most part, that bullpen remains the same, but the results are far better than before. If I told you a month ago that

Hector Rondon

would have lost the closer’s job, that

Joe Maddon

was going by committee, and

Brian Schlitter

was back–you would assume the worst. But amazingly, this bullpen has become a pillar of strength for a team that occasionally finds scoring runs difficult.

This simply may be another streak that the bullpen finds itself on. In fact, it seems that when a series against the Cincinnati Reds comes up, the bullpen goes into lockdown mode and allows hardly anything. The Cubs could have easily swept the series against the Reds if not for errors. That loss can’t be hung on the pitching.

And it’s not a case of having to do “the minimum”. The starters have had issues going deep into the ballgame, forcing Joe Maddon to call on his pen much earlier than he would prefer, which led to the return of Schlitter. I won’t lie, when he came into the game yesterday, I had mentally conceded a loss. But he proved me wrong while also making a heck of a play at first on the high throw from Starlin Castro.

The Cubs have signed Rafael Soriano to a minor league deal, and there have been rumors of a Jonathan Papelbon trade with the Philadelphia Phillies, but nothing is imminent on that front. The Cubs aren’t adding now out of weakness, but a bullpen can change from day-to-day. But somehow as Maddon has wiped away the defined “roles” in the pen, everyone has stepped up their game. Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson have been true professionals. For the most part, two career starters who could have an attitude about a move to the pen. Each has embraced the job and been very effective.

Rondon clearly still has the stuff, but has lacked the confidence. But Maddon isn’t one to abandon a player when he’s down. He’s simply turned to the rest of the bullpen to help raise him back up. So far, so good. Pedro Strop and Jason Motte have filled in at closer, and Motte may be back to 100% officially after two injury-filled seasons. Let us not forget how good he was with the Cardinals a few years ago, and he’s looking like that guy again. Refer to pitching out of last night’s bases-loaded jam, even if he did pitch his way into it. 

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Zac Rosscup continues to lower his ERA after being plagued by the long ball early on and has become a viable option against hitters from both sides of the plate for Maddon. Justin Grimm is striking out 13.9/9 innings, and on top of all this, we’re still without Neil Ramirez who figures to be a key piece out there.

Soriano is likely still a month away, and his role is anything but guaranteed. And knowing the Cubs, nothing was promised to him either. But for now, Maddon can look down the left field line and be confident that whoever gets the call can get the job done. But this is baseball, so who knows what this week will bring.

Next: Soriano to join team in July

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