Chicago Cubs: Bullpen an area of concern early for Joe Maddon

Apr 16, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Justin Grimm (52) reacts to giving up a three run home run to Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Adam Frazier (not pictured) during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 16, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Justin Grimm (52) reacts to giving up a three run home run to Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Adam Frazier (not pictured) during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /
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We’re just a few weeks in, and there’s no reason to be overly concerned. But the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen is an area that Joe Maddon and the Cubs front office is keeping an eye on early in the year.

The Chicago Cubs still have one of the best pitching staffs–by the numbers–in the National League. Part of that is that the starters have been spectacular in the first few weeks of the season. But as the Cubs hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates, the thought was that they could get to the Bucs bullpen and cause trouble. It was the Cubs bullpen that proved to be the weaker of the two during the weekend sweep.

It can be hard not to get too excited about what you’re seeing on the field, especially when it’s early in the season. But this weekend made one thing VERY clear. This bullpen is going to need some tweaking. Either by Chris Bosio and Mike Borzello in the mechanics of guys–or flat out roster changes. The disparity between what the starters are doing to put the Cubs in a position to win, and the job of the bullpen? It’s awful.

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The Cubs currently have the best ERA (2.56) in the league by their starting staff. Overall they trail only the Dodgers (2.77 to 3.14) overall in the National League. But the bullpen…oh, the bullpen. The Cubs are ninth in the NL with a 4.15 ERA. So yes, the offense is having their struggles. But the bullpen is consistently costing the Cubs games, especially this weekend against the Pirates.

In the middle of each loss

The Cubs pen was in the middle of all three of the losses, with only the first game in which they didn’t take the loss. Kyle Hendricks put the first two men on, but Justin Grimm allowed both inherited runners to score, and then one more of his own. On Saturday, with the wind blowing out, the Cubs offense came in like a lion but went out like a lamb.

After scoring six runs in the first three innings, they managed to push across just one more–Kris Bryant‘s second home run of the day–while the wind had been blowing out the entire game. On Saturday it was Pedro Strop‘s turn to crush fans dreams as he allowed a three-run home to Andrew McCutchen.

Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports /

And then on Sunday, Jon Lester gave us another stellar performance. He went seven innings, shutting out the Pirates on just three hits. And then the bullpen happened. The 1-0 lead he left with was suddenly 3-1 as Koji Uehara failed to get an out before leaving the game with the bases loaded. Hector Rondon allowed two more to score–although it appeared the Cubs might have had a force out at the plate that Joe West (not a favorite of mine) ruled the runner safe.

Letting games get out of hand

But with a 3-1 deficit, the Cubs were still in this game, right? Wrong. Grimm allowed a three-run homer to Adam Frazier, and the Cubs were down 6-1–and with it Easter Sunday was a bit depressing. And it hasn’t been the entire bullpen. In reality, three guys. Grimm, Brian Duensing and Strop.

Strop and Grimm were a big part of the Cubs last season, and both have had their stretches where they didn’t pitch well. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. You might not like Strop, or how he wears his hat–which is a foolish thing to be concerned about–but his overall numbers in his time with the Cubs have been good.

But what about Duensing? I was iffy on this cat from the start, and I think it’s time to cut him loose and call up Rob Zastryzny. He was a guy that Maddon had confidence in last season, and I have ZERO faith in Duensing. So that seems to work out well for all parties involved.

No one is hitting the panic button, especially the Cubs. But I can assure you that several of the Cubs in the pen will be watched a bit more closely in the coming weeks. The Cubs are still 6-6 and trail only the Reds, who to be honest aren’t going to play this well for long. By this weekend, the Cubs could be back on top and if the pen pitches well, and we’ll forget about this whole mess. Let’s hope that’s the case.