Is the Chicago Cubs Joe Maddon backed in a corner with his bullpen?

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

In the first few months of the season, the Chicago Cubs bullpen has had plenty of movement. But with that, Joe Maddon has found his favorites–and he goes to them often. But is that entirely his fault?

Coming into this season, the Chicago Cubs were expected to address the bullpen first and foremost. With Brandon Morrow on the shelf to start the year, they were already operating shorthanded. The Cubs went to work on adding to the bullpen, but some weren’t going to be ready to start the season. Brad Brach was one of the only notables that would be ready from the get-go. Pedro Strop was going to be needed to step into the closer’s role. Roles were shifting, and many weren’t sure what to expect.

In the first few weeks, it showed how unfamiliar Joe Maddon was with his bullpen. He had many of the arms that he had last season–at least at some time or another–, but many were being forced into high-leverage situations. Randy Rosario made the club out of camp but was quickly exposed to have pitched beyond his numbers last season as he was sent down quickly.

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Tim Collins, Allen Webster and Dillon Maples also had their chances–and might get another this season. Pedro Strop has already gone on the IL with the hamstring issue that plagued him last year, so he’s out of the equation. Carl Edwards Jr. was in Maddon’s ‘circle of trust,’ then fell out of it. He’s currently in limbo as he tries to find his place.

After a less than impressive second-half by Brandon Kintzler in 2018, he has been one of the constants out of the bullpen with success. Steve Cishek, after a rough outing early, has been his regular, reliable self.

The rest of the pen has been thrown together at times, and it’s starting to show. The Cubs have made the most with very little over the last year and a half. But with so many critical guys injured, the cracks are showing.

That was evident as Maddon went to Cishek for 2 1/3 innings to get the save in the finale against the Washington Nationals. Kintzler has been one of the first out of the bullpen called on to get important outs. So while some may look at Maddon and think that he’s ‘wearing them out’ early, is there a choice?

Maddon wasn’t outfitted with a complete bullpen. The pieces are there throughout the organization. Some on the IL. Others are recovering from Tommy John. And then a few just trying to reach their potential. So as Maddon goes further into this season, he’s going to go with who he trusts. At this point, it seems that’s Kintzler and Cishek. Brach seemed to be working his way towards that. But the blown save against the Phillies in the series opener may give him pause. The fact is, the Cubs front office didn’t give him the tools to be successful with the relievers.

It became apparent that the Cubs weren’t going to be big spenders in the offseason. But while they had the opportunity to pick up some decent relievers, they went to the ‘reclamation’ heap to find arms. Tony Barnette and Kendall Graveman are on the 60-day IL. Morrow is currently on the 60-day IL, but Strop may be returning soon–and the news for Morrow was promising. 

Next. Maddon feeling the pressure to find a closer. dark

If Maddon continues to use the same bullpen arms over and over, it’s going to be hard to be upset with him. If he’s trying to win games–which he should, or the media will eat him alive–he’s going to go with who’s having success. That’s a small segment currently. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cubs make an offer on Craig Kimbrel after the draft when it doesn’t cost them a pick.