Chicago Cubs have sorted out the late innings quicker than anticipated

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The eyes of the Chicago Cubs are on the future – even with a couple weeks left to play in the 2021 season. Jed Hoyer made that abundantly clear back in July when he dismantled the roster, complete with a teardown of the bullpen’s big three: Craig Kimbrel, Ryan Tepera and Andrew Chafin.

Hoyer sent Tepera and Kimbrel to the South Side in separate deals – one of which has panned out well for the White Sox and the other, not so much. Chafin packed his bags for Oakland, where he’s pretty much been the same lovable shutdown arm he was during his time with the Cubs. But in the immediate hours following the flurry of deadline moves, there were some serious questions when it came to the Chicago bullpen.

While it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses here down the stretch, the Cubs might have more internal options heading into 2022 than once believed. Specifically, Codi Heuer, who came over in the Kimbrel deal, and Rowan Wick who, is at long last, finally healthy and recovered from his oblique injury that cost him most of the season.

Prior to his most recent pair of outings against the first-place Brewers, Wick had things on lockdown almost every time he took the mound. Heading into that series in Milwaukee, the right-hander held opponents to an OPS in the .440s this year – striking out 22 batters in just 16 2/3 innings of work.

Wick has shown promise in the past, too. But lately, the issue has been getting him healthy and keeping him that way. Because when you look at the back of his baseball card (or his Baseball Reference page), the numbers speak for themselves: 66 appearances, 2.67 FIP,  3.28 ERA since joining the Cubs back in 2019.

Chicago Cubs: Codi Heuer, Rowan Wick both look like potential closers

Now, his recent struggles notwithstanding, the big right-hander looks like he’ll head into 2022 as a legitimate contender for the closer’s role. Manager David Ross knows that whether it’s Wick or Heuer, he’s got options come the ninth.

"‘‘I think those things kind of play themselves out organically more than needing to name somebody,’’ Ross told the Sun-Times. ‘‘As far as where we’re at, somebody’s got to go out there and take that ninth-inning job. If you had a closer in mind on our team right now, it’s probably Codi or Wick. I’m comfortable with either one of those guys in the ninth.’’"

As for Heuer, he’s been everything the Cubs could have hoped for and more since coming over from the Sox. Last year, he was a key piece of that team’s bullpen mix but after struggling here in 2021, Rick Hahn was willing to come off him in the Kimbrel trade, along with Nick Madrigal.

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Since the deal, the former Wichita State hurler has been masterful, working to a 1.40 ERA across 21 appearances entering action on Tuesday. If you look at his FIP, it suggests he’s overperformed to a degree, but the 0.857 WHIP is solid, regardless. You’d definitely like to see him get his strikeout numbers back up where they’ve been in the past, but it’s hard to complain about this one-two punch at the back end of ballgames.