Don’t look now, but it appears the Chicago Cubs bullpen has turned into one of the team’s strengths late in the season.
After being considered the biggest weakness of the Chicago Cubs early on this season, the bullpen has transformed itself into one of the best in baseball.
As we know, the first few weeks were pretty rough for this particular group. Fans were calling for trades, cuts, and demotions of some players who have proved to be vital lately.
Over the last two weeks of play, the Cubs’ bullpen has combined for a 1.79 ERA, second in the MLB. Since August 1, they boast a 3.58 ERA, which is good for sixth in baseball.
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Let’s start with Craig Kimbrel–one of the greatest closers this game has ever seen, the struggles from last season carried over into his 2020 campaign. He could not find the strike zone, and when he did, hitters were squaring up his pitches like batting practice.
If you look at his current statistics, a 6.23 ERA in 15 appearances is pretty ugly, but that only shows how bad his first few outings were. In his last 11 outings, Kimbrel holds a 1.73 ERA to go along with a 52.4 percent strikeout rate and a .404 OPS.
Kimbrel’s most significant moment as a Cub came in the dramatic 4-2 win over Milwaukee last Saturday night. After the Brewers put the first two runners on, it looked as if the right-hander was getting ready to implode as we have seen before. To his credit, he held his ground and shut the door by retiring the next three batters to get the save.
While he will most likely not be the go-to closer for Ross in the playoffs, I believe Kimbrel will be an essential piece of the ‘pen in October.
The man who will probably be the closer come postseason is right-hander Jeremy Jeffress. The veteran has been lights out for the Cubs with a 0.98 ERA in 17 appearances this season.
I love seeing Jeffress on the mound late in ballgames. In addition to taking care of his business, he has a fearless attitude against opposing teams in the most challenging situations. Knowing how to handle these high-leverage moments will be crucial with the pressure at its highest in the playoffs.
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You can see it when he is on the mound, and this mentality of “I’m going to do whatever it takes to get you out” will hopefully rub off on some of the younger arms. This is the same type of confidence we had seen out of the Cubs bullpen when they were at their best in recent years.
In my opinion, the biggest wildcard for the bullpen this season will be Rowan Wick. The right-hander has a 3.52 ERA while striking out 18 batters and walking just five in 15 1/3 innings pitched this season. He will continue to be used as a late-inning weapon along with Jeffress and Kimbrel.
Wick has had some minor hiccups this season, but for the most part, has looked poised to take over the ninth-inning role at some point in his career. The real test for Wick and many others in this ‘pen will come playoff time where he has never pitched before.
Here is a look at some statistics from the other arms in the bullpen:
RHP Ryan Tepera: 4.58 ERA 16 H 27 K 9 BB 17 2/2 IP
LHP Kyle Ryan: 5.11 ERA 13 H 10 K 5 BB 12 1/3 IP
RHP Duane Underwood Jr.: 5.40 ERA 15 H 22 K 5 BB 16 2/3 IP
RHP Dan Winkler: 3.07 ERA 9 H 13 K 10 BB 14 2/3 IP
LHP Josh Osich 6.75 ERA 4 H 4 K 0 BB 2 1/3 IP
RHP Jason Adam: 2.89 ERA 8 H 13 K 10 BB 9 1/3 IP
LHP Rex Brothers: 11.57 ERA 2 H 5 SO 3 BB 2 2/3 IP
Their numbers are not eye-popping by any means, but it will be the group the Cubs will rely upon down the stretch.
There have been some rumblings of the Cubs calling up their 21-year old pitching prospect Brailyn Marquez in the final weeks of the season. The left-hander has some electric stuff and is arguably the best pitching prospect the franchise has seen since the Mark Prior-era.
Sure he might not have any major league experience, but the Cubs (28-20) hold a four-game lead over the Cardinals (20-20) with 12 games remaining. I don’t see any harm in putting Marquez on the mound a few times in these final weeks just to see if he can be another weapon.
In a perfect world, the Cubs starters will go at least seven innings, and the offense will provide a cushion big enough where we would not have to worry about any possibilities of the bullpen losing a game in the playoffs.
Sadly, that is not how October works in baseball because the pressure will be on, and the Cubs will go as far as this bullpen takes them.