Chicago Cubs: Brandon Kintzler is answering the call this season

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Veteran Brandon Kintzler has put a dismal second half of 2018 behind him, transforming into the Chicago Cubs most valuable reliever so far this season.

Remember when the Chicago Cubs declined their option on Brandon Kintzler this offseason and he picked up his player option, thus keeping him on the team? Yeah, me too. And, at the time, I felt like it could be one of those moves that wound up dragging the team down in 2019.

Boy, was I wrong.

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Last summer, Theo Epstein acquired Kintzler from the Washington Nationals in an attempt to shore up the bullpen. He had never really been a flashy guy, but was known for keeping the ball on the ground and in the yard. At the end of the day, that’s a valuable commodity for a middle-inning reliever in today’s game.

But instead of buoying the Cubs’ staff, he was more of a rock tied to the foot of them, pitching to a 7.00 ERA and 2.000 WHIP in 25 appearances down the stretch. His home run rate tripled from the first half with Washington (0.4 to 1.5 per nine) and his walk rate skyrocketed, as well. In short, he was unreliable and did nothing to help the team try and win another division title.

So I know I wasn’t alone when I went into 2019 with very low expectations. I mean, the guy was heading into his age-34 season, so it’s not unreasonable to think he may have lost a little something at this point in his career. Well, I’m here to happily say I was very, very wrong.

With Pedro Strop struggling in a big way, Joe Maddon went to Kintzler in the eighth inning of the team’s series finale win on Wednesday in San Francisco – in a nod to the reliability and stability he’s brought to the staff this year.

On the season, Kintzler all Cubs pitchers with a 2.11 ERA across 44 appearances – the third-most on the team, trailing only Steve Cishek and Kyle Ryan. Opponents have mustered a lowly .203 average against him and he’s been near-unhittable at home – pitching to a 0.75 ERA in such appearances.

The right-hander didn’t allow a single run in 10 June appearances and has been the epitome of consistency all season long, never pitching to an ERA above 2.84. In short, this is no fluke. It took a lot of work in simplifying his mechanics this spring to get to this point – but it appears the dominance is here to stay.

"“His routine is diligent, he gets out there every day, does his routine,” Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy told NBC Sports Chicago last week. “He made that a part of his daily routine, his daily program, and things have just taken off.”"

It’s hard to imagine where this team might be without Kintzler. Aside from Cishek, the team lacks another reliable right-hander to get the ball to closer Craig Kimbrel. Strop hasn’t been the same to this point in 2019 and Carl Edwards is back with Triple-A Iowa once again because of his inability to harness his stuff.

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He might not be the flashiest guy out there – but make no mistake. Brandon Kintzler has been the unsung hero of the Cubs’ season so far. Whether or not you’d ever think so is another question entirely.