I’m not nervous about the Cubs’ bullpen. I’m not nervous about the Cubs’ bullpen. I’m not nervous about the Cubs’ bullpen.
If I repeat that enough times, maybe I’ll start to believe it.
Nope, not working.
Now I don’t mean to sound like a meatball Cub fan over here. I swear I don’t. But, I’m very nervous about the bullpen. Like, really nervous. Like, I’m close to pushing a giant red button that says “Panic Button.” I’m not quite there yet. But I’m close.
And, yes, I get that that’s unreasonable. Maybe it’s just September bringing it out in me or the never-ending feeling of being a Cub fan and never truly feeling secure in your team. But, I have lots of doubts right now.
The Cubs’ bullpen started out the year as a potential strength. Last year, they looked really good, frankly, with Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm all stepping up and looking excellent.
But, the pen faltered after early injuries to Grimm and Ramirez, forcing Joe Maddon to rely on pitchers like Jason Motte and James Russell to right the ship. Once Grimm returned and started being used in higher leverage situations, the bullpen began to settle down but still never looked as good as anticipated.
The team brought in players from outside the organization like Rafael Soriano and Tommy Hunter but neither panned out. Soriano was flat out cut and Hunter hasn’t been used in 10 days and is beginning to look like he may not even make the playoff roster.
With good starting pitching in the first half and great offensive output in the second half, the team hasn’t really needed the bullpen to be that good but with the playoffs approaching, the increasing issues with the pen are becoming nerve-wracking.
Now, I’m a 100% subscriber to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s Plan and typically agree with their moves. But, you have to wonder if the team should have tried to acquire some better relievers at the Trading Deadline. I’m not saying the team needed to ante up for Craig Kimbrel or Jonathan Papelbon but looking at a team like the Texas Rangers, who acquired low-key assets like Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman to solidify their pen, you can’t help but think that there were better upgrades over volatile additions like Soriano, Hunter and Fernando Rodney.
The Cubs’ missed opportunities at the deadline have been further illuminated by the pen’s recent struggles.
Of course, the 8th inning of last Thursday’s game in St. Louis comes to mind to start with. Pedro Strop entered, walked a guy and allowed a hit. Clayton Richard attempted to retire fellow lefty Matt Carpenter to no avail and Fernando Rodney (#IBelieveInFernandoRodney) allowed a two-run, go-ahead double.
Maddon’s use of those guys in there could be debated a little bit but I understand his rationale in his moves. My stipulation comes from the fact that these guys are the best we have available. That’s what frightens me. There are just so many question marks that remain.
Let’s start with Clayton Richard. He’s been an adequate addition but still doesn’t really seem like a guy I trust with the game on the line in a pennant run, yet.
Fernando Rodney was pretty awful this year in Seattle and, although he has looked okay so far in Chicago, has done fairly little to prove himself yet.
Pedro Strop has been pretty good against most teams not from St. Louis but the Cubs still play the Cardinals three more times this year, not to mention how they loom if the Cubs get past Pittsburgh in the Wild Card game. I don’t think Strop has a mental block against the Cards but I don’t know what the problem is there. All I do know is that putting Strop in an important St. Louis-Chicago series unnerves me.
Travis Wood has looked a little better of late, but he’s still recovering from a late August slump. Zac Rosscup and Carl Edwards both continue to have tons of potential but haven’t demonstrated it. Tsuyoshi Wada and Trevor Cahill are intriguing potential one-inning guys to me, but who knows how that experiment would turn out (probably not good enough for either to make the playoff roster).
Even if Jason Motte returns, he hadn’t been used in big situations for months leading up to his injury. And Yoervis Medina and Neil Ramirez haven’t even been used since returning to the big club.
On the bright side, walk-off Cody Asche home run aside, Hector Rondon has still looked good. But that leaves us with a grand total of one reliable bullpen arm.
To me, the most critical piece is Justin Grimm. In his last seven outings, he has a 10.13 ERA in 5 1/3 innings with six walks and two home runs. For a guy who has been a near elite reliever the last two years, those numbers are ludicrous. If Grimm can revert to form, that changes the entire dynamic of the bullpen by alleviating pressure on Pedro Strop and unproven high-leverage guys like Richard and Rodney.
Hopefully, it turns out that Grimm and Strop are just going through a small slump and will turn it around before the Wild Card game. Right now, I’m just worried they don’t have enough time to do so.
So as much as I tell myself not to be, here I am with my finger hovering over the panic button. Close to being ready to push it.
(Hey, I made it through this whole article without jumping to the easy pun of “the bullpen’s looking “grim!”” Well, until now. Still counts!)
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