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Chicago Cubs: Return of Duensing brings help, problems for Cubs

jfrancis
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After one week of play, the most glaring issue on the Chicago Cubs is the bullpen. The return of Duensing should help, but at what cost?

It has only been one week of games. Certainly not enough of a sample size to assess the team fully; however, the Chicago Cubs are keeping up with their 2016 performance. The pitching staff trails only the Cincinnati Reds in ERA and batting average allowed. And, the defense is solid, minus a few plays.

There are concerns. The offense is not producing. Not yet at least. They are one of four teams in the National League with under 100 total bases thus far. Only five balls have left the yard, lower than all other teams except the Pittsburgh Pirates. And then there is the bullpen. Of the losses the Cubs have endured, two came at the hands of the bullpen.

And, they also came off of the pitcher manager Joe Maddon trusted most in the post-season, Mike Montgomery. He is about to get some help.

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Lefty Depth

Montgomery is currently the only lefty reliever in the Cubs bullpen. That is about to change as Brian Duensing is to return from the disabled list soon. Acquired in the offseason, Duensing is considered the replacement of Travis Wood. Back tightness forced the team to shut him down at the end of camp and place in on the 10-DL to start the season.

In two games with the Iowa Cubs, Duensing has not allowed a run or a walk. Every batter that was on base when he took the mound was left standing on the bag. With a four-pitch arsenal at his disposal, his arrival will only help relieve pressure off Montgomery.

From a statistical standpoint, the bullpen is one of the best in the NL. Currently, they rank fourth in ERA, second in batting average against. That stated, they also allow walks at a higher rate. Having another lefty will provide the team improved match-up options. The only question is at what price.

Cost of Health

There is a cost to adding Duensing to the 25-man rotation. When someone is added, someone else has to leave. Those options are few for the Cubs. While only Montgomery, Matt Szczur, Hector Rondon, and Pedro Strop are the only players on the Cubs roster to be out of minor league options, most players have earned the right to refuse their outright assignments. Those that have not, such as Kris Bryant or Willson Contreras, are not going anywhere. That leaves three players.

The candidates are Tommy La Stella, Albert Almora, and Carl Edwards. That is a difficult choice. Almora is starting to prove his worth by fantastic defense and productive at-bats. Maddon is utilizing him as part of the center field platoon. Edwards is one of the bright spots in the bullpen for the Cubs. In four appearances, he allowed three walks and strike outs. That is it. No runs, nor hits.

That leaves La Stella. All of us remember his brash reaction to demotion in 2016. This year, he has already backed off of that stance, saying he would except being sent down if asked. The good news for him is that it is the last option under the rules. Still, he does have the right to refuse and become a free agent. After what transpired last year, declining to report again would not help him find another team.

Pull the trigger

With that in mind, it is time to pull the trigger and make the move. The abundance of talent on the team truly pushes one player off the 25-man roster at this time. While the decision is difficult, it is a must. It pains me to say this, but the Chicago Cubs should…..

…….release Matt Szczur. There. I said it.

Don’t get me wrong. I want Szczur to be a Cubs for as long as possible. That said, the reasons for the release are abundant. First, the outfield depth is tremendous. With five players fighting for regular time and other everyday players ready to fill in the gaps, space for Szczur does not exist. Second, the team will not reduce the pitching staff. There is no reason to, except that it would mean the team would carry 13 pitchers. But, all of them fill important roles and difficult to find adequate replacements.

Next: Jon Jay’s quiet rise to Cubs platoon stardom

Finally, Szczur deserves more playing time. During Spring Training, he showed the potential to be an everyday player. Giving him a chance with another team only shows how much they believe he can produce, and how they want to see him succeed.

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