The Chicago Cubs may have made the biggest in-season splash thus far by signing free agent Craig Kimbrel to a multi-year deal, but the bullpen is still in a tenuous position.
Tuesday night in Colorado marked yet another disappointing performance from the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen arms, as Brad Brach managed to get just two outs while surrendering five hits and four runs (all earned), while Tyler Chatwood struggled to improve on his lackluster resume pitching at Coors Field.
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While starters like Jon Lester and Yu Darvish have shown the ability to battle through early adversity in their most recent starts, most of the relief unit–Brandon Kintzler aside–has proven rather incapable of stringing together good performances.
Kimbrel may be the solution to the problem at the end of ballgames, but his acquisition will hardly mean anything if the Cubs cannot give him a lead in the ninth inning.
Although the Cubs are hoping that Alzolay will eventually be a starter, he has the kind of arsenal that could make him lethal in relief.
His fastball consistently sits around 95 mph with late life and run, and he has an extremely sharp breaking ball that seems to keep hitters off-balance consistently. This formula has been vital to the success of guys like Pedro Strop in Chicago, and Craig Kimbrel’s fastball-slider combination has helped make him one of the greatest closers in the history of the game.
In five starts at Triple-A Iowa, Alzolay has a 3.12 ERA and a sparkling 12.8 K/9 as opposed to a 2.1 BB/9. But those numbers alone hardly do justice to Alzolay’s level of effectiveness.
According to FanGraphs, Alzolay is inducing ground balls at a 47 percent clip, by far the highest rate of his career. Combine this with the high strikeout rate and a respectable 16.1 percent line drive rate, and he has all the makings of a dependable arm in the middle innings.
Depth is never a problem
By the end of the 2018 season, analysts and fans alike were talking about Joe Maddon‘s “circle of trust” when it comes to Chicago’s relievers. Unfortunately, that metaphorical circle still seems to be a factor this season.
Brach has been a nightmare in recent weeks. With both Kyle Ryan and Montgomery struggling, the Cubs do not have any reliable left-handers.
Maddon was hesitant to let Carl Edwards Jr. battle through some adversity against St. Louis, even with a four-run lead in the ninth inning. And even Cishek has really struggled when he has had to pitch in back-to-back contests.
So, why not bring Alzolay up and see what he has to offer? Of course, the Cubs need to be wary of his injury history. Alzolay missed nearly all of 2018 with a lat injury that he aggravated during Spring Training as well.
That said, the Cubs need to do everything they can to give Maddon more options, and it may be time to let the in-house talent shine.