Chicago Cubs: In a game of inches, this is what to watch for this season

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs
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3. Jekyll-and-Hyde bullpen style

You’d think life as a Cubs reliever is a pretty sweet deal. The past two seasons, the starting rotation averaged the third-most innings pitched in the National League. The offense scored the second-most runs in the league. And endless bullpen dance-cam fun.

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Wrong. Joe Maddon actually burns his bullpen out at a faster rate than other NL playoff teams. By pitching changes per relief innings, Maddon made nearly 10 percent more such changes in 2017 than an average of the other NL playoff teams. This created lots of extra bullpen wear and tear.

But then come October, the Cubs skipper stops trusting most of his relievers with a lead of any size. He goes from all-hands-on-deck to over-using (to the point of exhaustion) just a couple guys. Chapman and Montgomery in 2016. Wade Davis and Carl Edwards in 2017.

It’s an approach that stretched beyond its seams in Games 6 and 7 of the 2016 World Series. Then in 2017 against the Nationals, Maddon so overused those few trusted arms, his threadbare regulars had little left for the Dodgers.

The Cubs brain trust and analytics team must be aware of the pattern. But given the few 2018 trade chips available for mid-season bullpen trades, perhaps this might finally force Maddon to adjust his two extreme bullpen styles. Watch and see.