The Chicago Cubs need to add a shutdown late-inning arm if they want to have any chance of returning to the World Series – or even the postseason – in 2019.
Heading into 2018, right-hander Brandon Morrow looked to be the big offseason bullpen acquisition. A proven commodity after a dominant 2017 with the Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs clearly believed he deserved a shot in the spotlight as a big league closer.
With a 6-0 record and 2.06 ERA as the Los Angeles setup man in 2017, the Cubs were in the right to bring him on to be the team’s ninth-inning guy. When he got to Chicago, he was nothing but lights-out.
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In 35 appearances, he had a 1.47 ERA with a career-high 22 saves. Things were great until a back injury derailed his season, ending his run as the team’s closer. The Cubs resorted to a bullpen-by-committee as a result, with Pedro Strop as the head.
As a whole, the relief corps was great. They ranked second in the big leagues in ERA at 3.35 and eighth with 46 saves. Seven different pitchers contributed to those saves. While it was a solid season for the bullpen, the Cubs still need to look to add a primetime closer for the 2019 season and I want to give a few reasons why.
Morrow is still far from a lock health-wise
There was no “go-to” guy in the bullpen when the going got tough. The Cubs didn’t have an Aroldis Chapman or Wade Davis-like presence in the bullpen this year and from a numbers standpoint it appeared fine, but having one could have made a huge impact.
Having a weapon like a Chapman, who could come in a get a six, seven or even eight-out save when other guys were either struggling or resting, is invaluable to a team. Morrow was great, and when he went down, Strop stepped up in a huge way, but we can all agree as much as we love him, he still makes us a little nervous when he takes the mound.
The Cubs had a lot of clutch complimentary arms, and obviously made it work. That being said, they still lacked that one power pitcher that makes fans head for the exits with confidence that the team has a game in-hand.
That not only adds an element of dominance to the club, but a little fear as well. In a season with so many obstacles to overcome, having a consistent shutdown arm could not only have eased a lot of uncertainty but instilled a lot more confidence in the players and fans as well.
If you look back at the teams that played in the World Series in recent years, all had a closer that accounted for the majority of the team’s saves.
2016: Aroldis Chapman: 16 saves in 28 games and a 1.01 ERA
2016: Cody Allen: 32 saves
2017: Ken Giles: 34 saves
2017: Kenley Jansen: 41 saves
2018: Craig Kimbrel: 42 saves
2018: Kenley Jansen: 38 saves
We see the trend that these teams making it to the pinnacle of baseball all have closers that can shut down a game in a hurry. The Cubs made it work with the bullpen by committee in 2018, with those aforementioned seven different pitchers contributing at least one save, but without any clear ninth-inning stud heading into 2018, there’s clearly room for improvement.