Despite stretches of true dominance, Chicago Cubs reliever Brandon Morrow couldn’t stay healthy and ultimately fell victim to arm troubles in 2018.
The Chicago Cubs signed right-hander Brandon Morrow to a two-year, $21 million dollar deal after the former Dodgers fireman posted a career year, completely dominating Cubs hitters in the NLCS. He allowed just one hit in 4 2/3 innings of work in four appearances during the series.
Ahead of the team reporting to Sloan Park in Mesa, AZ., Joe Maddon stopped short of naming a closer. But by the time February rolled around, Morrow knew the ninth inning was his. Fellow newcomer, Steve Cishek, appeared likely to bridge the gap from the middle innings to Morrow.
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Morrow went on to convert 22 of his 24 save opportunities for the Cubs in 2018 en route to a 1.47 ERA, but he appeared in just 35 games as a familiar injury reared its ugly head. The right-hander did not throw a pitch in August or September, leaving the Cubs bullpen fatigued and depleted down the stretch.
Chapman? Davis? The Morrow Era begins
Out of the gate, the only way to describe Brandon Morrow’s performance on a daily basis? Dominant.
The right-hander converted all seven of his save opportunities in April, giving up just five hits across 10 scoreless innings. After suffering his first blown save against the Cardinals on May 5, Morrow rattled off six more saves in the month while regaining his power stuff, striking out greater than a dozen batters per nine in May.
His good form continued into June, where Morrow earned three more saves before suffering his first setback with tightness in his lower back. This ailment forced him onto the disabled list for the first time as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
Morrow returned in short order, but a more concerning issue was looming.
A familiar issue rears its ugly head
Morrow returned from his back injury at the end of June and quickly got back into the swing of things.
By the time the All-Star Break arrived, Morrow had racked up 22 saves to go along with a sterling 1.47 ERA. Little did Cubs fans know, those numbers would wind up serving as a final stat line for the 34-year-old reliever.
On July 19, Morrow returned to the disabled list with right bicep inflammation. This was hardly a new issue for him, as he struggled with the same injury in 2013 and suffered from a litany of other injuries in 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively.
But the injury was clearly more prohibitive than the organization initially believed. Morrow’s progression was slow. In fact, he did not throw his first bullpen session until over a month later.
While Morrow continued to throw on flat ground and play long toss, he still had not thrown off of a mound by mid-September, and the timeline for his return was growing shorter despite the Cubs’ increasingly desperate need for lockdown pitching in the late innings.
The Cubs lose their closer for the rest of the season
After throwing a simulated game on Sept. 15, Joe Maddon announced just three days later that the Cubs were shutting Morrow down for the remainder of the season.
Morrow simply did not progress quickly enough to warrant a return to the staff, which, in turn, proved to be a huge blow to a Cubs bullpen that was already on fumes.
Although it was ultimately the offensive struggles that really hampered the Cubs down the stretch, the absence of Morrow in the bullpen for the entire second half was undoubtedly a big factor in Chicago failing to close big games, hold onto a division lead and go deep into October.