On the same day the bullpen wasted a quality outing from Yu Darvish, the Chicago Cubs got promising news on a pair of injured right-handed relievers.
Despite missing their two most prominent relievers, the Chicago Cubs have held their head above water for the most part over the first two months of 2019. That being said, the team’s need for bullpen reinforcements reared its ugly head again on Monday night at Wrigley Field.
Yu Darvish turned in a quality start, allowing three runs over six innings of work battling against former Chicago ace Jake Arrieta, who made his return to Wrigley Field. He departed trailing 3-1, but after the offense rallied back, left-hander Kyle Ryan allowed the game-winning home run to Philadephia catcher J.T. Realtmuto in the top of the tenth.
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Mike Montgomery turned in a pair of scoreless frames in relief of Darvish, but then Brad Brach and Ryan coughed up a run each – costing Chicago a win. In the ninth, a controversial check-swing call proved costly – eventually leading to the game-tying tally on a soft single off the bat of Jean Segura.
"“It’s just frustrating that [the single] cost us the win,” Brach told MLB.com. “It’s one of those outings that I will stay up all night thinking about — could have thrown this, could have thrown that — but at the end of the day, it’s just baseball. It happens like that sometimes, unfortunately.”"
Brach, in his first year with the Cubs, has pitched well to this point, posting a 2.75 ERA on the year – even after allowing Monday’s game-tying run. But he’s not a closer, he’s a sixth or seventh-inning guy who bridges the gap to whoever you have waiting in the wings in the ninth. The only problem right now? Chicago lacks just that – at least for the time being.
Reinforcements on the way?
Chicago got largely positive updates on two of their injured hurlers on Monday, Pedro Strop and Brandon Morrow. The latter, who hasn’t pitched since before last year’s All-Star Break, threw off flat ground for the first time since being shut down earlier this spring.
The right-hander underwent offseason elbow surgery after missing the entire second half of 2018. When he was healthy last year, he was lights-out, slamming the door emphatically throughout the first half to the tune of a 1.47 ERA and 1.076 WHIP in 35 appearances. Really, at this point, you can’t count on him ever throwing another pitch for the Cubs – because if you’re betting the bullpen on those odds, you’re either A) delusional or B) negligent.
But the guy who had been filling in for him as closer seems much closer to returning to the club. Strop threw 25 pitches off the mound in the bullpen at Wrigley Field on Monday without issue. The right-hander will throw another bullpen later this week before being reevaluated.
After another stellar showing last year, Strop struggled early this season. He carries a 5.06 ERA in a dozen appearances this year, with a disappointing 2.20 strikeout-to-walk ratio. No one seems sure how long he was battling the hamstring injury that sidelined him – but it’s possible it could’ve played a role in those struggles.
On the year, the Chicago Cubs bullpen has the fourth-lowest earned run average in the league (3.93). They’ve managed this thanks to several guys pitching above expectations – but I’m not sure how feasible it is to expect that trend to continue without getting some form of impact arm added to the mix sooner rather than later.