Somehow, a guy with a 4.48 career earned run average is dominating opponents out of the Chicago Cubs bullpen, picking up the slack late in the season.
Remember how good Brian Duensing was for the 2017 Chicago Cubs? Probably not, because he’s been the epitome of a pitching machine throwing batting practice this season.
But he was really good. The guy made 68 appearances, pitching to a 2.74 ERA and averaging a career-best 8.8 strikeouts per nine. Those efforts helped him net a two-year, $7 million deal from the Cubs in the offseason. While that deal hasn’t looked so great for Chicago so far, you never know what 2019 will bring.
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A similar type, the Cubs brought in right-hander Jesse Chavez in a midsummer deal. No one really paid much attention to it, as he was overshadowed by teammate Cole Hamels and, later, Daniel Murphy, joining Chicago, as well.
He earned the trust of Joe Maddon quickly – and hasn’t looked back.
Doing whatever has been asked of him
In a season where the Cubs lost Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow to season-ending injuries and are clinging to a long shot hope Pedro Strop returns before the postseason, the fact the bullpen has had success is nothing short of a miracle.
Chicago relievers enter play Tuesday with the best earned run average in the National League at 3.35. That’s due largely in-part to the work of Chavez and guys like Steve Cishek, Jorge De La Rosa (another under-the-radar pick-up), Strop, Carl Edwards and Justin Wilson. So… really, just about every regular reliever.
Chavez, though, has excelled in pretty much every situation Maddon’s thrown him into – and that’s saying a lot. In save situations, he’s pitched to a 2.08 ERA. In non-save situations? 2.83. Across the board, he’s averaging just under 10 strikeouts per nine – something he hasn’t done since 2012.
With Chicago, he’s spun an incredulous 7.20 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The only guy who comes to mind with numbers like that? Justin Verlander. Not bad company for a 35-year-old journeyman on his ninth big league team in 11 seasons.
Staying humble and hungry
What’s made Chavez so successful?
In my mind, it’s the simple fact that he checks any ego that can come with being a big-leaguer at the door and simply puts his head down and grinds. He’s stepped into some high-pressure roles at a moment’s notice this year, handling them near-flawlessly.
In tie games this year, he’s limited opponents to a .217 average. At .238, opponents have fared only slightly better in what Baseball Reference classifies as ‘high-leverage’ situations. In short, he’s pulled it all together when needed, keeping the Cubs in ballgames or preserving leads when asked.
Jesse Chavez has never thrown a postseason pitch – not one. But given what he’s done for Maddon and the Cubs this year, you can bet he’s on the team’s playoff roster. Now, whether or not that’s in a Wild Card matchup or in the NLDS is still to be decided. Either way, though, you know this gritty vet is ready to answer the call.