Chicago Cubs getting the best version of Steve Cishek at a perfect time

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
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After some up and down outings earlier in the season, veteran Steve Cishek is rounding into form at the perfect time for the Chicago Cubs bullpen.

With Craig Kimbrel sidelined until at least Thursday when he’s eligible to return from the 10-day IL, the Chicago Cubs can ill-afford any shakiness out of the bullpen. I guess the good news is the offense isn’t scoring runs and the starters are serving up runs like popcorn at a movie theater, so there haven’t been too many high-stakes moments of late.

Joe Maddon has had the benefit of expanded September rosters to help off-set the loss of Kimbrel and the shakiness from others, including longtime setup man Pedro Strop. But perhaps no one arm has been more reliable than side-armer Steve Cishek.

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Last year, Cishek’s first campaign on the North Side, saw the right-hander pitch to a sterling 2.18 ERA across 80 appearances – the second-most in all baseball. This year, he hasn’t been quite that good, but he’s definitely turned a corner of late.

Cishek really struggled in late July and early August. Over a five-outing stretch from July 27 to August 9, he allowed six earned runs on eight hits (three of which left the yard) in just three innings of work . But in the nine games since that spell ended, it’s been an entirely different story.

During that span, he’s struck out 10 in nine innings of work, holding opponents to a .107/.235/.107 line – which is particularly promising given his struggles with the long-ball this season. In 2019, he’s allowed home runs at nearly twice his career average – hardly an issue specific to him alone, but an issue nonetheless.

For the Cubs to have any chance at reaching October for the fifth time in as many seasons, they’ll need Cishek to be on point in the next three weeks. Kimbrel, even if he comes back as scheduled on Thursday, hasn’t been the answer the team hoped for when they gave him a three-year, $43 million deal mid-season.

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It’s been a strange two years or so since Cishek joined the Cubs. Last year, a 95-win team felt like a major disappointment when we closed the book on the season. This time around, we’re just hoping Chicago has enough in the tank to make it back to the postseason. The one thing that hasn’t changed, throughout it all? Cishek and his key role in the bullpen mix.

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