Chicago Cubs: Bullpen has some late season issues to work out


Late-inning relief has been anything but ‘relief’ in the last few games

It’s the last place I’d want to be as a pitcher. Mistakes are magnified, and many times can be the difference between a win or a loss. The Chicago Cubs bullpen is in an unenviable position, and as of late it’s not getting much love. The last two days against the St. Louis Cardinals were less than impressive, with today’s culminating in a late loss. Yesterday, with a big lead they surrendered five. Today as they clung  to a one-run lead they surrendered three. It might just be “one” game today, but it was a two-game swing in the standings. The Cubs can catch the Cardinals, but not when they blow games like this.

For a good portion of the year, Joe Maddon has had a solid group at the backend of the bullpen to call on in the late innings. For a while, it was some combination of Jason Motte, Pedro Strop, and Hector Rondon. When Motte went down, the Cubs acquired and mixed in Fernando Rodney. Now this bullpen is in a stretch where you don’t feel real confident when they take the mound–and it’s way too late in the season for that feeling.

Neil Ramirez has recently been activated from the DL and Carl Edwards Jr. has recently made his Major League debut. These are two more arms that–from an aspect of their stuff–should be considered for late-inning situations. The question will be what it will take for Maddon to be confident again in Ramirez in those spots, and even more so what it will take for the rookie Edwards to earn his trust with the game on the line.

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The recent struggles of Strop aren’t new. On several occasions this year he’s had a stretch of three or four games where he seems to lose his confidence. None of the “slumps” seem to last long, and he tends to bounce back better than before. After his most recent hiccup, he followed it with a streak of 11 1/3 scoreless innings, and a total of just one run allowed over 15 2/3 innings. This current one needs to end soon as the Cubs still have games to play against the Pirates and Cardinals before this season is over. They need the dominant Strop back and soon.

The bullpen has been effective for most of the season and ranting that it’s terrible or guys aren’t doing their job would be a lie. BUT, right now the late-innings are a concern and Maddon needs to find the “new” formula of relievers to close out games. Oddly enough, Rondon has had another solid season–granted a few blown saves–but still impressive. It’s the guys before him that the Cubs need to find an answer for.

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