Hayden Wesneski's home run woes have returned at the worst time for the Chicago Cubs

After a strong start to the year, the Cubs right-hander has been remarkably prone to the long ball stemming back to late May.
San Francisco Giants v Chicago Cubs
San Francisco Giants v Chicago Cubs / Jamie Sabau/GettyImages

Craig Counsell's options in the Chicago Cubs bullpen leave a lot to be desired, to say the least. Monday's gut-wrenching loss to the Giants was another showcase of that, as Héctor Neris blew the team's 16th save of the season after coughing up a long ball to Thairo Estrada with two runners on base. Neris deserves much of the blame and his struggles in the ninth inning have been especially notable, but it's worth mentioning that Hayden Wesneski also had a part to play in that collapse.

Wesneski was called out in the top of the seventh after the Cubs had just taken a 2-1 lead. That brief advantage quickly vanished two pitches in when he coughed up a home run to Heliot Ramos. He then followed that with three walks and a groundout before Mark Leiter Jr. was summoned to bail him out.

On its own, his outing was sloppy with too many free passes and a mistake pitch to a red-hot hitter. In the context of Wesneski's recent performance, however, it continues a troubling trend with the righty swing man that dates back to late May. From his appearance against the Braves on May 23 onwards, he's owned a 7.45 ERA with an 11.12 FIP across 9 2/3 innings of work. The especially alarming part is an untenable .737 slugging percentage with six homers.

While not a huge sample size, Wesneski's penchant for giving up long balls over this stretch has already cost the Cubs plenty. Before these struggles, he had not suffered a home run all year and was having more consistent multi-inning outings when in relief. Whether as a starter or out of the bullpen, he appeared more confident than ever and seemed primed to become a key piece to Counsell's plans. Instead, his problem is more prevalent with each outing and reflects his warts from last year, during which he posted 2 home runs per nine innings with 20 dingers coughed up in just 89 1/3 innings.

Wesneski's struggles thin out an already brutal Cubs bullpen

Unfortunately, there's little room for Wesneski to adjust when Counsell already has to make questionable decisions night after night with whoever is available. Of the Cubs' relievers, Tyson Miller is the only one finding consistent success with a 0.69 ERA since coming to the North side. Mark Leiter Jr., the team's one stalwart arm for most of the year, has seen his season ERA balloon to 4.50 of late, albeit with a much better 2.58 FIP. Neris's struggles are well documented and others like Luke Little and Colten Brewer haven't established themselves.

It's an indictment on Jed Hoyer's roster construction that Wesneski has to be relied on to be a key contributor. There's never been a guarantee that he'd lock down a spot in the bullpen and, even if he ultimately does, it could take time and adjustment to reach that point. Injuries to Yency Almonte, Adbert Alzolay, Julian Merryweather, and Ben Brown may leave things thinner than expected, but there should have been a better foundation of proven major leaguers to begin with. Ideally, the team needed to be constructed to allow optionable arms to filter in and out and earn chances to become long-time fixtures.

For now, the Cubs will keep going with Wesneski in medium to high-leverage spots because they simply have no one else. It's not inspiring, especially with his rough peripherals and 4.41 xERA, but it's the situation this team is currently mired in. External solutions are needed to ease the pressure on the younger arms and, generally, take a load off of everyone else. It's getting late fast in Chicago and they can't continue to heavily lean on guys who can't keep the ball in the yard.