Chicago Cubs: Craig Kimbrel’s return is a shot in the arm for the bullpen

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs bullpen has been stretched thin after a myriad of injuries. But the return of closer Craig Kimbrel provides not just a physical, but a mental boost for the other arms available.

The Chicago Cubs bullpen was in dire need of a boost after several devastating losses in late innings. The bullpen had been without many of its core pieces, including Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, and Craig Kimbrel, at various points throughout the last couple weeks.

Finally, however, Kimbrel has returned to the pen and while he has struggled this year, having the team’s definitive ninth-inning guy will be a major boost. His presence allows any doubts about who will handle the late, high leverage situations to be removed.

To this point, Kimbrel has pitched to a lousy 5.65 ERA with a WHIP of 1.535 in 14 1/3 innings pitched thus far, plus a high FIP indicating he’s deserving of the damage done to him. However, this is still a small sample size. And it’s still much easier to trust him over some of the more questionable arms such as Derek Holland or Pedro Strop.

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It’s also worth mentioning that the majority of Kimbrel’s runs given up came throughout two games: July 1 in Pittsburgh and July 27 in Milwaukee. Six of Kimbrel’s nine earned runs came in these two games alone.

Kimbrel’s return allows Joe Maddon the ability to throw pitchers like Strop in lower leverage situations again in order to gain back their edge. Strop played a large role in the Phillies massive comeback last week after walking the bases loaded for Bryce Harper’s walk-off grand slam. But he’s also struggled in general, pitching to a miserable 5.40 ERA.

It’s also helpful for pitchers like Kyle Ryan, who were brought in far more commonly while Cishek and Kimbrel were injured and Kintzler was readjusting after his own issues. This will allow the Cubs bullpen to recover from being stretched thin by a slew of key injuries.

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The hope is that with Kimbrel now available for the ninth, Maddon will have the ability to more evenly spread out and utilize his “circle of trust” to best fit the situation. Not only that, but there’s a certain confidence instilled in knowing that one guy is in charge of the ninth versus a rotating cast of overworked arms.