Chicago Cubs: The magic of pitching coach Chris Bosio

Behind the Jake Arrieta Cy Young and no-hitters, the resurrection of Travis Wood, Jason Hammel and others and the growth of countless others both on the mound and even at the plate lies the unsung hero of the Chicago Cubs, pitching coach Chris Bosio.

The Chicago Cubs’ hidden gem signed as a member of the pitching staff in 2012 under manager Dale Sveum, coming over from the rival Milwaukee Brewers where he already unearthed the talents of pitchers such as unknown John Axford.

Axford came from the Melville Millionaires in Saskatchewan Canada of the Western Major Baseball League and was a cell phone salesman before working his way to the Brewers and under the tutelage of Bosio, went 24 for 27 in save attempts.

The next year, he saved 46 games and was named the Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year.

I That wasn’t the only arm Bosio had the Midas touch with in Milwaukee. He also was instrumental in the career growth of current starters Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada and had a major impact on the career course of Zack Greinke during his stint in Milwaukee. The Cubs saw greatness in Bosio and despite the change from Sveum to Rick Renteria and now Joe Maddon, Bosio stayed on the staff and has helped the Cubs flourish in many ways.

It was hard at the start for Bosio. The Epstein plan was to bring in arms, have Bosio work his magic and send them packing for prospects. The Cubs pitching coach worked with a number of great arms that he had to send packing for players he would start all over with again.

Ryan Dempster was turned into current starter Kyle Hendricks. Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, the latter of which is back and better than ever with the 2016 Cubs, were turned into future star and current starting shortstop Addison Russell.

The biggest of them all was Scott Feldman, who signed a one-year deal and was traded just three months into the season for a struggling prospect recently optioned to Triple-A named Jake Arrieta along with current set up man, Pedro Strop. He was told the plan would eventually give him the chance to establish a rotation and that free agent help would come when the club was ready.

With Jake Arrieta and the rest of the Cubs taking a big step forward in 2014, Bosio was given his free agent prize when Theo Epstein opens the vault and signed Jon Lester to head the Cubs rotation.

However, it was Bosio’s work with Arrieta that leads to the Cy Young season from the current form of the Cubs ace we see, moving Lester into the #2 spot in the rotation when the playoffs opened. The Cubs pitching staff consisted Arrieta, Lester, the previously mentioned Kyle Hendricks and Pedro Strop, and reclamation projects including Jason Hammel, Travis Wood, Clayton Richard and Fernando Rodney.

Closer, Hector Rondon, was another cast-off who was selected as a rule 5 pick of the Chicago Cubs and has evolved into one of the game’s elite closers. While the Cubs young bats such as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber got most of the headlines, what Chris Bosio did with a bullpen of castoffs and a young, emerging closer and his starting staff was nothing short of remarkable.

Coming into 2016, the Cubs expectation were sky-high due to the past success of both the bats and arms on the roster, which was intensified with free agent signings such as Jason Heyward and John Lackey. Immediately Chris Bosio’s preparation paid off as they worked the rotation at the onset of 2016 to ensure that John Lackey would face his former team, the St Louis Cardinals, in the first meeting of the season. The newly acquired Lackey struggled out of the gate going 2-0 but sporting a 5.68 ERA going into that contest.

The Chicago Cubs got more than they could have expected in a 5-0 win over their division rivals, with Lackey going seven shutout innings, striking out eleven Cardinals along the way. Chicago went on to win the series against arguably the team that will push them all season without Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester making an appearance in the series. That reliance on the back-end of the rotation and bullpen has made the Cubs scary no matter who is on the mound for them.

The genius behind Bosio isn’t just his ability to work on mechanics or teach the physical side of the game, but his relentless pursuit of developing the mental aspect of his pitchers. This mental toughness came from his pitching career from 1986 to 1996 that included 94 wins, a no-hitter of his own on April 22nd, 1993 and 12 surgeries including having both of his knees replaced.

It was his knees that eventually ended his playing days and pushed him into coaching. That April no-hitter was a testament to his preparation and toughness as during spring training that year a man burglarized his home and lived in it while he was in Arizona getting ready for the upcoming season.

He was arrested, released on bail and returned to Bosio’s home once again. While at spring training, he was in the apartment above a murder-suicide below involving a woman and her daughter. Days after while still in Arizona, he came off the mound of a game he was in to receive a call from his family notifying him that his grandfather had died.

Sep 26, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio (25) celebrates with Chicago Cubs owner Thomas S. Ricketts clinching their 2015 post season appearance after their game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The steady Bosio once said, “if you aren’t tough enough, this game will eat you alive”. He has instilled this mantra into the heads of the pitchers he coaches, preaching mental toughness, focus and doing the little things to win. He isn’t about the spotlight as outside of Cubs fans, many people wouldn’t recognize his contribution to the team’s success. He is about the details as seen when Jason Hammel took the mound against the Cardinals last week.

The suddenly unhittable Hammel has more RBI this year (three) than earned runs allowed (two). In that Cardinals game, Matt Adams and Randal Grichuk each singled to start the inning. Before the game, however, Bosio had discussed doing an inside pickoff move the first time someone got to second as the Cardinals prey on complacency. When Hammel made that move, he caught Adams leaning and picked him off second.

The next batter, Yadier Molina, hit a triple scoring one run instead of two and Hammel hit a two-run single which ended up being all the offense the Cubs would muster that night. Thanks to Hammel’s preparation both on the mound without throwing a pitch and at the plate, the Cubs went on to win 2-1.

The Cubs success in 2016 has been the byproduct of years of building to this season. The great trades of Theo Epstein acquiring Arrieta, Strop, Russell and even Anthony Rizzo for Andrew Cashner, the drafting of future stars Kris Bryant and others, the great play on the field and the coaching of Joe Maddon and his staff has to lead to this moment in the sun.

In the background, Chris Bosio continues to work his magic, give a sermon on preparation and mental durability and the Cubs pitchers take it all in, going to work each time they are handed the ball ready to take advantage of their coach’s wisdom and beat the competition they stare down at the plate.