With Craig Kimbrel looking like his old self, the Cubs become very dangerous.
Looking to complete a turnaround of epic proportions, Chicago Cubs right-hander Craig Kimbrel finished the season in rare form, pumping fastballs past opposing hitters in the high-90s and looking like the guy he’s been much of his career – a pitcher someday destined for Cooperstown.
Across his final 12 2/3 innings of work, the 32-year-old allowed a diminutive .342 OPS. Opposing hitters batting just .045 against his heater and he worked his way back into manager David Ross’ circle of trust, even late in ballgames.
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That says a lot for Kimbrel, who continued to work through the struggles all season long. Ross took notice of not just the turnaround, but the tireless effort that went into his returning to form late in the regular season.
"“He never hung his head,” Ross told MLB.com. “The phone rang down there, and other peoples’ name was called when it’s his time to get that call — [even with] his résumé. And for him to continue to work and never be [ticked] and never put blame or make excuses — all he did was come in and go to work, and that’s a true professional. That’s a man of character.”"
From July, that aforementioned fastball gained over two MPH in velocity. That extra separation from his offspeed pitches is a huge piece of the puzzle for Kimbrel, who is near-unhittable when he’s got his full arsenal working.
Unfortunately for Chicago, we haven’t seen that repertoire in full effect since Kimbrel joined the Cubs midseason last year. If he can sustain his recent success, you have to feel a lot better about this team’s bullpen mix in an expanded postseason.
Ross’ ball club welcomes in the Miami Marlins this week at Wrigley Field in the best-of-three Wild Card round. With his two horses getting the ball to open the series and one of the game’s all-time best big-game hurlers waiting in the wings, the rotation couldn’t be set up much better.
But adding Kimbrel to the back of the pen alongside Jeremy Jeffress lengthens that group and gives Ross more options (more impactful options, at least) than he’s had really at any point this year. We’re just hoping he looks as good as he did in the season’s closing days when he gets the ball in a big moment in October.
"“That stuff was explosive and as good as we’ve seen all year long,” Theo Epstein said. “The arc of his season is putting him in a really good place to, I think, be a dominant guy in October.”"