David Ross has to find a new approach with the Cubs bullpen

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

For what seems like the millionth time this season, the Chicago Cubs wasted a stellar start when they handed the ball over to the bullpen on Monday night. It’s fair to expect some blow-ups after they traded their top relievers at the deadline for the second time in as many seasons, but there is no excuse for the poor showing the bullpen has put together over the past few weeks.

On Tuesday in Toronto, Marcus Stroman turned in a wonderful performance, allowing just one run in five innings. He exited with a 2-1 lead that was quickly thrown away as Brendon Little made his debut in a horrific way. Within three batters, the Cubs were down 4-2 and Stroman was no longer in line for a win.

David Ross must do a better job of managing the Cubs bullpen

There is a fine line between understanding the obstacles in Ross’ way and blatantly mismanaging the roster. The bullpen currently in place is not going to be even close to the same unit that takes the field in 2023, especially if the Cubs aim to compete next season.

The issue with David Ross lately has been his assumption – or at least the belief – that his relievers are capable of pitching beyond an inning of work. Multiple times over the past two weeks, Ross has given guys out of the bullpen a chance to go two innings and it has backfired.

If the Cubs enter the 2023 season with any of these arms as part of the regular bullpen, they will struggle once again. To make these decisions even more bizarre, there is no reason to pursue multiple innings out of players like Erich Uelmen, Miguel Rodriguez or Brandon Hughes.

Those arms have been solid in short relief but they have no business trotting back out there after recording three outs. If the Cubs expect them to go beyond that next season, then this is not a team that is ready to win, which would signal a completely different focus on the team at hand.

There is certainly value in pitching young arms to see what they can provide for the organization moving forward. Ross has gotten some solid outings from Brandon Hughes, Jeremiah Estrada, and Javier Assad (as a starter).

It is wonderful to see such a large contingent of youthful arms making impacts across this season but at some point, Ross has to recognize that they are not prepared to pitch long innings or handle the pressure of deep lineups.

For the sake of the starting rotation, Ross has robbed them of multiple wins this season by mismanaging their performances. Justin Steele, who has the best ERA in baseball since July, has only one win to his credit in that span. In fact, Steele has a 0.96 ERA over his last five starts and does not have a single decision to his name.

The Cubs have now gone five straight games without a decision by the starting pitcher because the bullpen simply cannot shut the door on winnable games. Drew Smyly recently went six scoreless innings and the bullpen promptly allowed seven runs in two innings for a blowout loss.

There is no excuse to lose ballgames when you take a four-run lead into the seventh inning. Chicago, regardless of how depleted the roster has been this season, should be OK with throwing away games for the sake of ruining the confidence of their bullpen.

The rest of this season should be a learning experience and that will bring some hurdles along the way, I am well aware, but David Ross has done more damage to the morale of this team than he has done positively.

I think Ross gets too much of a pass for his performance for a number of reasons. Mostly, his role in the 2016 World Series and the roster that he was given to start this season was not expected to win.

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However, this roster is better than the record shows. Ross was also in charge of the 2020 and 2021 clubs that featured a ton of talent and he underwhelmed with those groups as well. The next month should hold some weight as the Cubs decide their plan for the future and whether David Ross fits into their long-term plans.