Chicago Cubs: Should we be concerned about closer Wade Davis?

Feb 15, 2017; Mesa, AZ, USA; Detailed view of an official MLB baseball on the field during Chicago Cubs Spring Training workout at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 15, 2017; Mesa, AZ, USA; Detailed view of an official MLB baseball on the field during Chicago Cubs Spring Training workout at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

New Chicago Cubs closer Wade Davis has struggled a great deal this spring. What does this mean for the reigning World Series champions heading into the regular season?

Last year, when the ninth inning rolled around, the Chicago Cubs knew it was a done deal. Joe Maddon handed the ball to Aroldis Chapman and the southpaw blew opposing hitters away, slamming the door and preserving the win.

When Chicago dealt once-heralded outfielder Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for Wade Davis, the expectation was the same. Hand the ball to the right-hander and let him close things out.

The only problem is, so far this spring, he’s been unable to put together clean innings.

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Davis owns a 19.64 ERA in his five outings this spring, spanning 3 2/3 innings. In that stretch, he’s allowed eight earned runs on nine hits, walking five and striking out six.

The simple explanation is Davis simply isn’t missing bats. Opponents are batting .474 against him this spring as he works his way back from an injury-stricken 2016 campaign.

With just seven days until the Cubs open up the defense of their title against the rival St. Louis Cardinals, doubts about Davis are creeping up in the minds of a good many Chicago baseball fans.

It hasn’t been an issue with his stuff. According to Maddon, what Davis features is as good as ever.

"“His stuff is above and beyond, especially when we put him in the bullpen and he stayed there on a more consistent basis. You see the velocity, the break and all that kind of stuff,” Maddon told the Daily Chronicle. “There was definitely an uptick from starting to relieving. You’d see flashes of that as a starter. You see it more consistently stuff wise as a reliever."

So, then. Why has Davis struggled so much this spring?

A history of rough spring performances

The same worries surround $184-million outfielder Jason Heyward who, after posting the worst offensive numbers of his career last year, hasn’t been any better this spring. Last year, Heyward put up disappointing numbers in Cactus League play, and it carried over to the regular season.

Davis, though, has a history of rough spring performances. In five of his previous nine spring trainings, he posted an earned run average above 4.50. But he hasn’t done so in years – since 2012 with Tampa Bay, to be exact.

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Chicago Cubs

In recent years, he’s been his regular dominant self. His improved spring numbers (as well as emergence as an All-Star) coincide with his move to the bullpen.

So, now that he’s in the Cubs’ bullpen, what do we make of his struggles?

Keep in mind he lost the second half of 2016 to injury. It takes time to get back in a rhythm on the mound, something we’ve seen time and time again.

It’s not Davis alone who worries me; it’s the lack of sure-fire options in the back of the Chicago bullpen.

Promise, but will it pan out?

Former Chicago Cubs closer Hector Rondon racked up 77 saves from 2014 to 2016. He lost the closer’s job when the team dealt for Chapman last summer. Since that trade, he’s been a completely different pitcher.

He dealt with an injury late last year, but since the All-Star Break in 2016, Rondon owns a 6.41 ERA, .316 opponent batting average and 1.475 WHIP. His struggles continued for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic – with a pair of forgettable appearances.

Offseason acquisition Koji Uehara has been a valuable reliever over his career, but is now on the wrong side of 40 years old, so it’s feasible to wonder how much is left in the tank at this point.

Should Davis falter, Chicago has one other alternative in hard-throwing right-hander Pedro Strop. He put together another sterling campaign last year, although he was better in non-save situations over the course of the regular season.

Next: Starting rotation, injuries could headline the 2017 season

It’s still far too soon to hit the panic button on Wade Davis. He’s getting back into the swing of things after missing a good chunk of last year with the Royals. But the importance of the Cubs’ other options looms large as the team seeks to defend their World Series title.