Chicago Cubs get bad news on Yency Almonte before another bullpen collapse

The back of the Cubs' bullpen has been a liability all year, and one of their injured set-up men just suffered a setback
Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs
Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs / Matt Dirksen/GettyImages

Chicago Cubs' reliever Yency Almonte suffered a setback after throwing a bullpen session last Tuesday, exacerbating the lingering bullpen issues that led to another tough loss in San Francisco on Monday.

Almonte has been sidelined since May 8 with a shoulder issue. He had been progressing back but is now seeking a second opinion after still experiencing pain during his bullpen session according to manager Craig Counsell.

Almonte, along with Hector Neris, was one of the main pieces brought in by the Cubs this offseason, and he figured to be one of the main set-up men in the bullpen this year. Before hitting the injured list, Almonte had a 3.45 ERA in 15.2 innings pitched with 20 strikeouts.

Almonte was certainly not going to be the closer on this team, but his presence would help supplement the thin array of late-game options. Neris has proven to be untrustworthy in save situations, as his ERA has ballooned to 4.55 in just 27.2 innings. In 29 appearances this year, Neris has had just four outings where he has not given up either a hit or a walk, which is reflected in his 1.66 WHIP. Almonte at least boasts a mid-90s fastball to help overpower hitters, but his return is now uncertain, leaving the team without a reliable late-inning arm.

The Cubs desperately need a closer

Other than Almonte, the Cubs have also lost Adbert Alzolay, Daniel Palencia and Julian Merryweather to long-term injuries. Other than Luke Little, these were the hardest-throwing arms in the bullpen that could have filled in in the ninth inning had they been healthy. But these injuries, coupled with the poor performance of Neris, have contributed to the Cubs blowing 17 save situations this year, which is second-to-last in MLB, with the Chicago White Sox the only team worse in that category with 21.

Monday's game against the San Francisco Giants was a perfect microcosm of the team's bullpen issues. After starter Justin Steele turned in a stellar outing where he fired 7.1 innings with only two earned runs, Counsell used Tyson Miller - arguably his most reliable arm - to escape a jam in the eighth inning. Instead of going to Neris, Counsell brought in Colten Brewer and Drew Smyly to shut the game down, who proceeded to give up three earned runs combined and the game in embarrassing fashion.

These types of losses are much too frequent for a team with a payroll north of $200 million. The front office needs to act quickly if they want to salvage this season and finding a closer should be at the top of the list. Had the team converted even half of those 17 blown saves, they would be one game out of first place in the NL Central.

An internal option could be Ben Brown, who has proven to be a solid starting pitcher but may be more needed in the ninth inning right now with his blistering fastball. But his return from a neck injury is murky, as the latest update was promising but still sounded like he is a few weeks away. A trade could fast-track the process, with the Miami Marlins (Tanner Scott) and the Los Angeles Angels (Carlos Estevez) possessing closers on expiring contracts. Unless the Cubs are throwing in the towel, they can afford to trade prospects for a rental if it means solidifying their bullpen for the final few months of the season. But the team needs to turn things around soon to warrant such a move because time is running out.