Chicago Cubs: Justin Wilson’s inconsistent start leaves questions about his role

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 11: Justin Wilson
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 11: Justin Wilson /

When the Chicago Cubs traded for Justin Wilson at the trade deadline last year, he was mostly a bust, failing to make the NLCS roster. And while he has shown flashes of greatness this season, it is not yet clear what his role will be this year.

In the first half of the 2017 season, Justin Wilson was a solid bullpen arm for the Detroit Tigers. With a 2.68 ERA and a 0.942 WHIP, he developed into a valuable trade piece for the rebuilding Tigers. And at the non-waiver trade deadline, it was the Chicago Cubs who acquired Wilson and catcher Alex Avila in exchange for Jeimer Candelario, Isaac Paredes and cash.

However, when Wilson came over to the Cubs, his results were vastly different. He posted a 5.08 ERA and a 2.094 WHIP in just 17 1/3 innings pitched. When the Cubs advanced to the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wilson did not even make the roster for the series.

With a full offseason to improve and identify any issues, though, Cubs fans could have hope that Wilson would come into 2018 ready to produce at the level he did with the Tigers in 2017.

Off to a good start

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And in his first few appearances of 2018, it appeared that Wilson might do just that.

In two appearances against the Miami Marlins on March 29 and 30, Wilson pitched 2 2/3 innings and struck out three, allowing just one hit and two walks.

In the Cubs series against the Milwaukee Brewers, Wilson continued his scoreless streak. He did not allow any runs in two appearances in the series.

However, while pitching the seventh inning of game two of the series April 6, Wilson got the first two outs quickly and then proceeded to walk the bases loaded.

Have to contain the walks

Wilson’s main issue last year was that he walked too many batters. Thus, in his outing against Milwaukee, his struggles from last season seemed to resurface.

In his outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 12, Wilson’s struggles continued. He allowed three walks and three hits and was charged with four earned runs. But against the Braves on April 14, Wilson looked solid again, pitching one clean inning and allowing just one hit while striking out two.

Thus, Wilson has been off to a very up-and-down start this season. At times, it has appeared he could be a vital part of the Cubs bullpen. But at other times, he has looked just like his inconsistent 2017 self, which is far from Joe Maddon‘s circle of trust. And that’s often what April is about in every baseball season: finding out what role everyone is going to play on the team that year. Wilson’s role should come into focus more as April goes on.

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One thing is for sure: Wilson has shown the potential for significant improvements after last year’s disappointing performance. But only time will tell if he will keep those improvements up and become a key member of this bullpen. Or fall into the same struggles as last year and become an unreliable arm reserved for blowout games.