Maybe it began in the 2018 postseason, which the Red Sox won in spite of his spotty ineffectiveness. Maybe it was the awful showing once signing late with the Chicago Cubs in 2019 for then skipper Joe Maddon. Or, maybe it was the “rusty” beginning of the delayed 2020 season that led to his closer role being stripped by current manager David Ross.
Either way, at this point, Craig Kimbrel hasn’t been himself in almost three years. Now, it has been a somewhat strange journey and off-schedule trek for the right-hander over that period of time, but it seems safe to say that the dominant guy baseball fans were used to coming out of the pen and locking down saves is no more at just 32 years old.
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It’s hard to believe that the guy who started and finished 2020 was the same guy, but either inconsistency is now part of Kimbrel’s game, or something is just not right. Only Kimbrel can know for sure, but it would stand to reason that there’s either something bothering him or completely flawed mechanics that are constantly in a state of flux. I’d tend to go with the latter since there was much discussion of fixing those mechanics and getting them right last season, but it seems as if the concerns are back again.
The thing is, this is a guy who was as lock-down as they come, turning in eight straight seasons of at least 31 saves and an ERA under 3.40. He was an All-Star for seven of those seasons as well, even after a move from the National League East (Braves) to the American League East (Red Sox) with a quick layover in San Diego for a year.
Cubs: David Ross won’t stick with Craig Kimbrel at the team’s expense
So, while Kimbrel was once dominant and is clearly still able to be that way at times as evinced by the way he ended the 2020 campaign, he clearly isn’t right at the moment. Again.
David Ross, who has already shown he’s willing to go with someone else as the closer despite Kimbrel’s former glories, has been quick to voice concern early in camp this spring as well. I’m sure the hope Ross and every Cubs fan keeps nurturing is that somehow Kimbrel will be okay by Opening Day and figure out these mechanical or rust issues the way he did last fall.
If that doesn’t happen, however, the Cubs are without last year’s surprise savior Jeremy Jeffress this year (although he is a free agent now after being released by the Nationals for “personnel reasons“).
They’re also not going to be able to hand things over to Rowan Wick who has been dealing with oblique issues and may not even be ready by Opening Day. That leaves Brandon Workman as the only real veteran option, although Ross could go closer-by-committee if Kimbrel continues to falter.
Hey, there’s always Dillon Maples… who has always had closer “stuff,” even if the command has left something to be desired. Or Andrew Chafin. Yeah, let’s hope Kimbrel can figure things out and knock that ever-present rust off somewhere before heading back to the shores of Lake Michigan.