For awhile there, it seemed that any pitcher—starter or reliever—on the Cubs had an edge on opposing hitters. Seriously, it felt like any pitcher with a “C” (not the peculiar Cincinnati variation) on their cap could throw a basketball past lineups with ease. Then, an unexpected snag emerged and Cubs starters often found themselves on the wrong side of a crooked numbered inning. Faced with no other choice, Joe Maddon would hand the ball over to his bullpen with hopes of stopping the bleeding, but for the most part, the relievers would only worsen the wound. Looking ahead at the second half, it’s reasonable to assume that the rotation will return to their early season form—crisp and consistent. As for the bullpen, the near future looks rather grim…pun intended.
Below is the winning formula for Lester Strode’s bullpen. It could be more imperative to re-evaluate certain roles than waive guys from the roster. That being said, Spencer Patton and Clayton Richard must be shown the exit.
Long Reliever—Travis Wood
After watching his ERA balloon up to over 5 in May, Wood has began to string a series of solid appearances together to lower his mark to an impressive 2.97. Wood is essentially the lone lefty out of the bullpen—a void that needs to be addressed—but is typically used in long relief due to his experience as a starter.
Someone, anyone, who throws with their left hand and can get dangerous left handed hitters out. San Francisco is stacked with tricky lefties like Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford and many other potential National League teams have at least one lefty who can do damage.
Middle Relief, Low to High Leverage Situation—Justin Grimm
Grimm has been an utter disappointment after materializing as a weapon out of the bullpen a season ago, where he posted a 1.99 ERA in 49 innings of work. 30 innings into this season, Grimm’s era has inflated to 5.34 and his strikeout rate has worsened. Grimm has pitched in high leverage moments a handful of times this year and has actually held his own, but more appearances in lower pressure settings could ease his nerves and get him back on track.
Middle Relief, Low Leverage—Trevor Cahill
Cahill has been OK this season but not as productive as last year. He’s been called upon frequently by Maddon, already logging 41 innings, which is just two frames shy of his season total from 2015. On the surface, his numbers look good: 3.07 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. However, dig a little deeper, and you will see that Cahill’s magic number is three. As in he has allowed three more walks and hits per nine innings than last year.
Middle Relief, High Leverage—Carl Edwards Jr.
This one is a wildcard. Edwards’ sample size is limited (and I mean limited) but the hard-throwing right-hander has prospered in his increased role with the team. In 10.2 innings this season, Edwards has only allowed a pair of earned runs and boasts a .114 opposing batting average and a sizzling 0.66 WHIP. Edwards and Grimm could be used interchangeably, as Maddon could (and should) ride the hotter hand in pressure spots.
7th Inning—Pedro Strop
Say what you want about Pedro, but he’s been one of the brighter spots in the Cubs bullpen. Strop has primarily served as the set-up man for Rondon, and has done a serviceable job. Strop often finds himself in the crosshairs of fans because it seems like all of his appearances come with the game on the line and the severity of a single misstep multiplies in magnitude.
8th Inning—Hector Rondon
As was aforementioned, Strop frequently finds himself in intense moments of a game. While he has generally succeeded, Rondon is better suited for the job. As we know, Rondon has experience as a closer and has done a satisfactory job in the role but has started to falter in save situations as of late. Rondon was 11/11 in saves until June 14th, where he blew one against Washington. Then, he blew one the very next day and two more since then. He’s pitched well, but as of now, his game is more suited for the 8th inning.
Closer—Andrew Miller/Aroldis Chapman
Here’s to hoping we get one of these guys. If it’s Chapman, then it’s a no-brainer to slide him into the closing role. If it’s Miller—the more realistic option, according to reports—then Maddon will have a decision to make between keeping the white-hot Miller in the role he’s excelled at in New York or converting him to a closer.