Entering the final stretch of the season, the Chicago Cubs are the favorite to win the NLCS. Bad news for other teams is the Cubs are about to get better.
You can smell it in the air. October baseball is right around the corner. And with the best record in Major League Baseball, the Chicago Cubs are looking to finish the regular season strong and win 100 games. Doing so means playing in “The Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field with home field advantage.
The hype has been constant all season. Talk of their starting rotation’s prowess, the collection of seasoned veterans and young All-Stars, and the overall depth of the system led to the talk of ending the most storied drought in all of sports. The performance of the team confirmed the talk. This team is good.
But there was, for a lack of better terms, a flaw. Could the bullpen hold leads and close out games? While many of us would say something wishy-washy about the Cubs bullpen, the honest answer to the question is, “they’ve been adequate.”
The Chicago Cubs bullpen has been solid as a whole. The good part is they are fourth in the NL in ERA (3.51), lowest in innings pitched (435.1), and second in runs allowed (187). However, their overall record (21-19) shows that they allow teams to take advantage of their presence on the mound. Additionally, they are second highest in the NL for wild pitches. Overall, they are 21st in the MLB in WAR (-1.0)
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The true issue has been the health of the group. Joe Smith spent some the disabled list with a hamstring issue. Hector Rondon suffered from a triceps strain. Performance issues allowed Cubs Manager Joe Maddon to call upon prospects Carl Edwards Jr. and Rob Zastryzny and see their growth. Both have performed outstandingly well. And, with the addition of Aroldis Chapman, the Chicago Cubs bullpen has improved.
And it is about to get better.
If you hear the sound of teeth chattering on Friday, it could be other contenders in the National League becoming nervous as Pedro Strop returns from the disabled list. On August 10, Strop tore the meniscus in his left knee when fielding a grounder. And with ten games left in the season, there is time to get Strop playoff ready.
For the season, Strop performed well, even if he “struggled” in June. He boasts 11.5 strikeout-per-9 innings ratio in his 43.2 innings pitched. Strop’s ERA is 2.89 and his WHIP is .893.
Whether it was pitching in the seventh or eighth inning, Strop is a valuable piece to the puzzle. And, now that he returns to the pen, the back-end of the game just became more difficult for opposing teams. Maddon now has the option of combining five pitchers in the innings prior to Chapman entering. Think about it. The options are Smith, Edwards, Strop, Rondon, and Zastryzny. In one game, Maddon could bring in Smith then Rondon, or Edwards and Strop. Or even Zastryzny, Smith, and Edwards. All before Chapman. There is also the option of giving Chapman a day off. The last three innings could get very interesting.
Think about it. The options are Smith, Edwards, Strop, Rondon, and Zastryzny. In one game, Maddon could bring in Smith then Rondon, or Edwards and Strop. Or even Zastryzny, Smith, and Edwards. All before Chapman. There is also the option of giving Chapman a day off. The last three innings could get very interesting.
The Chicago Cubs are primed to make a deep playoff run. With the bullpen getting healthy, playoff teams are on notice. Get the popcorn, friends. Enjoy the ride.