Chicago Cubs: Bullpen full of questions as Cubs head into stretch run

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 23: Wade Davis
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 23: Wade Davis /

As the Chicago Cubs head into the stretch run, their pitching, specifically the bullpen remains the biggest issue.

All season long, Chicago Cubs fans worried about the Cubs lack of offense at times throughout the season. But in the end, it boils down to pitching. It’s long been said that pitching wins championships. The Cubs pitching has struggled this year, but with a decent turnaround in the second-half, the focus has shifted to the bullpen.

Like most teams’ bullpens, the Cubs has been a story of ups and downs. From using some position players to shuttling prospects up and down between Triple-A, the Cubs bullpen has been a constant state of flux. Let’s break it down a bit and see who can be trusted and who can’t.

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The Highs

When you think of the Cubs bullpen, one pitcher comes to mind: Wade Davis. Davis has been near perfect for the Cubs this season. Sporting a 2.23 ERA in 48 1/3 innings, Davis is a perfect 29 for  29 in save opportunities. The 29 consecutive saves have set a Cubs franchise record, and he looks poised to finish the season without blowing a single save. While he has given Cubs fans a scare from time to time, he’s been on point in the second half and is easily the most trusted member of the Cubs bullpen.

Pedro Strop has been a staple of the Cubs bullpen for the last several years, and despite some rough outings, he’s been pretty solid throughout the season. Despite a 3.28 ERA this season, Strop has gotten some big outs for the Cubs. He has never finished with an ERA above 3.00 in his Cubs career and is right near that again this season. He gets a lot of heat from Cubs fans when he has rough outings, but he’s very reliable.

Brian Duensing has been a lot more impressive than everyone has thought. In 53 2/3 innings, Duensing has an impressive 2.68 ERA and just 13 walks. He has by far walked the least of pitcher in the Cubs bullpen. He has been mainly a LOOGY type pitcher, but if no one else steps up, he could be pitching full innings.

And that’s it. If you break down full seasons of these pitchers, those three pitchers have been the most consistent for the Cubs and will get heavy usage throughout the rest of the season and playoffs.

The Fringe Guys

There’s a couple of guys who you can put on the fringe between the highs and lows. One that stands out the most is Carl Edwards. Edwards is pitching in his first full season as a Cub. He got off to a fantastic start. In 36 1/3 innings pitched, he sported a 2.23 ERA with 52 strikeouts and opponents batted just .123 against him.

The second half has been much different though. Despite holding opponents to a .167 average, Edwards ERA is 5.48 in 21 1/3 innings pitched. His biggest issue is the 16 walks during that time. His 81 strikeouts on the season make him poised to be the first Cub since Carlos Marmol to strikeout over 100 out of the bullpen. However, he’s been very inconsistent, and you just don’t know which Edwards to expect when he comes in.

Koji Uehara has been decent despite being 42 years of age. While his 3.98 ERA isn’t terrible, he’s been used a lot less frequently, and his biggest problem is the long ball. He’s allowed seven home runs in 43 innings but has struck out 50. He’s a valuable asset but hardly someone that you can fully trust to shut the door.

The Lows

Pretty much everyone else falls into this category. Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm have both had very disappointing seasons. Grimm (5.09 ERA) has bounced back and forth between the big league team and the minors. He also spent some time on the DL. While he has put together some good outings, you don’t want him out there with the game on the line.

The same can be said for Rondon. His 4.58 has improved over the last few outings, but he always seems to implode right when he’s been in a good stretch. He’s been very disappointing and is best suited for medium to low leverage situations at this point.

Felix Pena and Justin Wilson have just been plain awful. Pena will not make the playoff roster and even Justin Wilson, who has walked 11 in 11 1/3 innings, is slowly pitching himself out of the playoff picture.

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As you can see, the Cubs bullpen has a few trustworthy guys, but most have been inconsistent. Mike Montgomery will be back in the bullpen for the playoffs and will provide some much-needed support.