Cubs News: Can the team keep winning with a bad bullpen?
Can the Chicago Cubs’ hot start be sustained with a bullpen that keeps giving up runs?
The Chicago Cubs are off to an excellent 6-2 start, and usually, that would be something to get excited about. However, there seems to be a dark cloud over this season, as the bullpen simply can’t stop giving up runs. On Saturday, it was Kyle Ryan, supposedly one of David Ross’ more trusted relievers, who gave up three runs and nearly blew an eventual 4-3 Cubs win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Rowan Wick had to come in to finish the job.
There’s no hiding the fact that the bullpen has been atrocious to start this season. Collectively, the Cubs’ relief group has posted an almost unfathomable 9.75 ERA. Thankfully, they’ve had strong starting pitching and enough hitting to make up for it, but can this formula for winning be sustained?
Last year, the Washington Nationals proved that, despite conventional wisdom, it is possible to win a championship with a bad bullpen, as their relievers’ collective 5.68 ERA was by far the worst in the National League and second-worst in the majors. Can the Cubs repeat that success? Let’s look briefly at how it can be done.
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Strong starting pitching
The Cubs’ starters so far have posted a sparkling 2.30 ERA, as they’ve gotten excellent back-to-back starts from Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood against Pittsburgh. Last year, Washington had a great starting rotation with Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez, all posting ERAs under 4.00 and giving the team at least 27 starts. The Cubs will likely need Chatwood, Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, and Jon Lester to be that solid foursome for them the rest of the way.
Cubs clutch hitting
In what Baseball Reference calls high leverage situations, the Nationals as a team batted .272 with a .822 OPS last year. They did some of their best work in the ninth inning and in extras. And with two outs and RISP, that OPS was a whopping .870. They also had two hitting stars in Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. The Cubs will definitely have to keep up their hot-hitting ways as a whole and will likely need to have a couple of guys step up with MVP-caliber years the way that Rendon and Soto did last season.
The Cubs relief pitching will have to get better
The Nationals’ 5.68 ERA was terrible, but this team’s 9.75 bullpen ERA is on a level all its own. Let’s hope that ERA at least comes down to a manageable level over a 60 game season. Besides that, if this trend continues, the team will likely have to go outside the organization to find a difference-maker.
Last year, the Nationals got Daniel Hudson in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays during the season, and he was tremendous for them, giving up just four earned runs in 25 innings while making six saves. Even with the team’s tight finances, they’re going to have to find a gem via trade before the August 31 deadline.
If this year’s Cubs are going to follow what the Nationals did last year and win with a less-than-stellar bullpen, they are going to have to continue scoring lots of runs and getting good starting pitching. And while the bullpen doesn’t have to be great, as we learned last year, it is going to have to be better than this. Hopefully, we can start seeing more zeroes on the board soon.