Chicago Cubs: Brian Duensing is an X-factor in 2019

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /

Brian Duensing struggled in 2018 after a solid 2017 season. If he can bounce-back in 2019, it will go a long way for the Chicago Cubs bullpen.

For the Chicago Cubs in 2019, nothing greater will help the team then improvements from those who struggled with the team last season.

Bryce Harper, Craig Kimbrel and Manny Machado remain unsigned, but the likelihood of the Cubs signing any seems low.

Bounce-backs needed

Thus, for the Cubs to improve off of a 95-win 2018 season, the team will need those currently on the roster to play up to standards set in previous seasons. This is especially true for the team’s young position players.

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One name outside of that group that also comes to mind. Left-handed reliever Brian Duensing, who struggled mightily in 2018 after a stellar debut season with the Cubs in 2017.

The Cubs rewarded Duensing with a two-year, $7 million contract last January after the reliever posted a 2.74 ERA in 68 games in 2017. Duensing struck out 61 batters compared to 18 walks, holding opponents to a .246 batting average against.

Between multiple trips to the disabled list and struggles on the mound, 2018 was a forgettable campaign for Duensing. His ERA jumped to 7.65, opponents hit .286 against him and he walked more batters (29) than he struck out (24).

Struggles were one-sided

While it is not the entire explanation, a basic aspect of Duensing’s struggles is how he fared against righties compared to lefties.

In 2017, lefties hit .258 against Duensing, while righties hit .237. In 2018, lefties hit just .217, but righties hit a whopping .346. The 2018 numbers are not necessarily skewed, either.

Duensing pitched 19 1/3 innings against lefties and 18 1/3 against righties in 2018. Twenty of the 32 earned runs the left-hander surrendered came against righties, too.

The Cubs finished the 2018 season with the second-best bullpen ERA (3.35) in MLB. But by season’s end, the group was decimated by injuries and ineffectiveness.

The former is true for Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop; the latter for Duensing and others. Struggles aside, the Cubs need the 2017 version of Duensing in 2019.

Improved Duensing would be huge

With Justin Wilson signing a two-year contract with the New York Mets, the Cubs’ current left-handed relief options look slim. Outside of Duensing, Mike Montgomery and possibly Randy Rosario, the bullpen is right-hand heavy.

None of the three aforementioned lefties are overpowering, which is a concern/topic for another day. However, an improved-Duensing changes the entire dynamic of the group and bullpen as a whole.

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A bullpen featuring Morrow, Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek, Montgomery and improved versions of Brandon Kintzler and Duensing looks good on paper. The key being on paper, of course.

Duensing went from one of the Cubs’ more reliable relievers to one of the least reliable in just one season. As 2018 proved, a lot can change, and a lot can change fast.

But if Duensing does return to form in 2019? Watch out.