After a dismal second half of the 2017 season, it seemed the only way Justin Wilson could go was up. And while he has shown signs of improvement throughout the 2018 season, his season has been a very up-and-down affair.
The Chicago Cubs did not have to give up much to get Justin Wilson from the Detroit Tigers at last year’s non-waiver trade deadline, but the trade for the lefty reliever still proved to be a failure, at least in the early stages.
Wilson struggled mightily in the second half with the Cubs to the tune of a 4.94 ERA. After putting up a 3.77 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the first half, his command faltered in the second half, as his strikeout to walk ratio sat at just 1.41. Wilson’s struggles culminated in him being left off the Cubs NLCS roster.
Coming into the 2018 season, there was some reason to hope that Wilson would improve. He had been a solid closer for Detroit in the first half of 2017, accumulating 13 saves.
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A rocky start led to a strong first half
In the early goings of 2018, it appeared Wilson was back to his old ways. He posted a 5.59 ERA in March and April with 11 walks and just 13 strikeouts. In May, however, he showed flashes of his old self, with a 0.71 ERA in 12 2/3 innings pitched.
Wilson ended the first half with a 2.77 ERA in 39 innings of work, providing a sign of hope for Cubs fans who hoped he would become a much-needed asset to the bullpen from the left side, especially with left-hander Brian Duensing struggling throughout much of the season.
False hope in the first half?
After Wilson showed improvements in the first half, the rollercoaster continued in the second half. Since the halfway point of the season, he has been dismal, pitching to the tune of a 6.35 ERA so far in 5 2/3 innings of work. While he became a reliable bullpen option in the first half, now, it seems he cannot be trusted in high-leverage situations.
Wilson’s struggles have made even more evident the Cubs’ need for left-handed help in the bullpen. While Duensing was dominant last year, he has been anything but this season. And Wilson’s volatility makes it difficult to turn to him for lefty matchups late in games.
Still, Wilson’s 2018 season has shown some signs of hope. His hot stretch in May showed that he has the potential for improvement, and if he gets hot at the right time, he could still be helpful to the bullpen, but he is hardly someone to rely on. The acquisition of Jorge De La Rosa is a start, but the lack of a reliable shutdown reliever from the left side is still undoubtedly one of the Cubs’ biggest weaknesses.
Justin Wilson could still be better. But at least for now, he cannot be trusted in high-leverage situations, which shows the Cubs’ lack of depth from the left side in the bullpen. If this hole can be addressed prior to the waiver trade deadline, it could be very impactful for the Cubs come playoff time.