Are Chicago Cubs relievers missing sticky stuff or are they just exhausted?

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs organization has seen brighter times as we near the dreaded trade deadline here at the end of July. With Joc Pederson already in Atlanta, the writing seems to be on the wall for this team but there is still much uncertainty as to what will actually happen. With this team playing their worst baseball of the year, one thing that sticks out (no pun intended) is the bullpen’s regression since the implementation of foreign substance checking on June 21.

Before June 21, the Cubs bullpen was rolling as they ranked first in all of baseball with a 2.62 ERA. Get the ball to them and it was almost a guarantee they would hold things down. This group was no doubt the strength of the team and Chicago was in a great spot as a result.

However, once MLB started cracking down on foreign substances, things have gone south. Sure, the workload from the arms in the bullpen has undoubtedly made an impact, but the size of the dropoff is almost too big to not correlate it with the rule crackdown.

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Since the rule regarding foreign substances was implemented, the Cubs have a bullpen ERA of 6.19, 27th in baseball. They’ve also posted a BB/9 of 4.91 (28th) and a -0.5 WAR (25th). This group seems all over the place and it’s been painful to watch some of these guys try to throw strikes.

Names like Rex Brothers and Dan Winkler are the two who have struggled the most. Brothers has posted a 5.40 ERA since the June 21 and Winkler has a 7.71 ERA along with averaging 6.43 BB/9. We can’t attribute all of this to the substance-checking but it is concerning seeing these numbers regardless.

It seemed as if David Ross could do no wrong when choosing arms to pitch late in games but now it’s presented a challenge. With fatigue setting in, regression is obviously expected. However, watching some of these arms try to find the strike zone has been more painful than watching our big names get thrown around in trade rumors.

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Another guy who has really struggled this past month is Ryan Tepera. After winning the Reliever of the Month award in May, it’s been downhill for the veteran right-hander. Since  June 21, he’s gone 4 2/3 innings with an ERA of 13.50 and BB/9 of 9.64. After 14 appearances in May only allowing one run, watching his numbers balloon like this is worrisome.

Of course, Tepera missed time with an injury, as well, but seeing a guy who was one of the best bullpen arms in the league all of the sudden struggle like this is definitely a red flag.

With a starting rotation that isn’t built for sustainable (or really any type of) success, the bullpen has definitely been asked to do a lot this season and they’ve lived up to the challenge for the most part. We knew regression was coming but we didn’t realize it would be this soon and this bad.

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The Cubs are officially sellers this trade deadline and some of the bullpen names that had high value next to them may be more difficult to move until they can prove to other teams that the substance checks are just a coincidence. Let’s hope this group can turn it around before the season gets any more painful.