Chicago Cubs: Brandon Kintzler could once again be valuable

(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs bullpen came under fire in the first four games of the season. But Brandon Kintzler is off to a solid start in his first full season with the Cubs.

The Chicago Cubs bullpen hasn’t been great. Well, that’s putting it mildly, really. It was almost entirely responsible for the team’s first two losses of the season against the Texas Rangers. Despite scoring 16 total runs in the last two games of the series, the Cubs dropped both, as the bullpen couldn’t hold on to the leads the potent offense provided.

But among the bullpen concerns, one arm is off to a solid start. It’s a small sample size, of course, but Brandon Kintzler has put together two solid outings so far this season. He has yet to give up a hit, and in his 1 2/3 innings, he already has three strikeouts and no walks.

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On the right track

Obviously, it’s early, and Kintzler’s season could still go downhill from here. But his command looks good so far and he hasn’t gotten into any trouble yet this season—which is more than you can say for some of the other relievers.

Carl Edwards Jr. has had multiple disappointing outings to open the season and now will have to change his delivery again as his new toe tap motion, modeled after Kenley Jansen, was recently deemed illegal. Mike Montgomery struggled against Texas as well, and even Pedro Strop didn’t look great, as he gave up a double and a wild pitch to give the Rangers the walk-off win on Sunday.

So, yes, it’s early. But if you’re looking for a bright spot in the bullpen, Kintzler is it. And a return to form for him could be a significant development for the Cubs.

A return to form?

Kintzler was a disappointment for the Cubs in 2018, plain and simple. A trade deadline acquisition from the Washington Nationals, he was rendered essentially unusable in high-leverage situations late in the season, as he posted a 7.00 ERA with the club in 2018.

But let’s not forget the success Kintzler has had in the past. He was an All-Star in 2017 and was picked up by the Nationals at the deadline to bolster their bullpen. He also had some great years early in his career with the Milwaukee Brewers.

If Kintzler did return to his 2017 self in 2019, it could be big news for the Cubs. There was certainly a chance he wouldn’t even make the team out of Spring Training. But he’s here now and performing well to open the season. Should this continue, he could even usurp Edwards for the setup role. And his services would be much appreciated if he could be successful in that role.

Projections haven’t exactly been kind to Kintzler going into 2019. ZiPS projects he’ll have a 3.90 ERA, an improvement from last year but still average. But at least in the early going of 2019, there’s some hope this deadline acquisition could pay off for Theo Epstein.

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It’s easy to get hasty in the early season and overreact to bad performances or get too excited about hot starts in the first few weeks of the season. But among some bullpen struggles for the Cubs, Kintzler is at least one bright spot for now. The test will be if he can keep it up going forward.