The Chicago Cubs came up one game short of winning the National League Central last season. There was supposed to be a sense of urgency this year.
The talk surrounding the Chicago Cubs in spring training and early on in the season was that there needed to be a sense of urgency. “October starts in March” said Theo Epstein, Cubs President of Baseball Operations. The idea was that the team was going to play every game with a purpose as if it really mattered.
Of course all the games matter. They ultimately determine your final wins and losses and playoff chances. Look no further than the Cubs Twitter page and their header that says exactly that. “Every game matters”.
Lately, the way the bullpen has performed would lead fans to believe that maybe the front office doesn’t really mean what they said. Let me explain. In 2019, the bullpen has converted just 9-of-20 saves including blowing two of them on Friday against the last place Reds.
I think most fans would agree when I say that the bullpen was going to be a giant question mark heading into the season as the front office did very little improve it. This coming on the heels in which the bullpen pitched 588.1 innings in 2018, fourth most in the National League.
A big chunk of those innings were from sinkerball pitcher Steve Cishek, who pitched 70.1 innings last year in his first season with the Cubs. Those innings were up there with the likes of Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen and Brewers’ Jeremy Jeffress.
The bullpen was going to be without closer Brandon Morrow for an extended period of time, but the team sustained injuries to Mike Montgomery and Pedro Strop. Montgomery is now back, Strop is close to returning, but Morrow’s status is still unknown. The aforementioned Cishek already has 23.0 innings under his belt in 22 appearances this year, so the Cubs will need to monitor his usage.
The problem here is that the Cubs just don’t have a reliable arm to go to right now. Brad Brach is up and down, Kyle Ryan in all honesty should be sent back down to Triple-A Iowa, and Carl Edwards, Jr. is shaky at best. Oddly enough, Tyler Chatwood has been one of the most reliable bullpen arms this season but anything is an improvement over last season.
This is the situation that the Cubs front office has put themselves in by not addressing the bullpen in the offseason. They will likely be very proactive in getting a bullpen arm (or two), but now they are forced to give up prospects from a farm system that was already ranked near the bottom. Of course they could always sign free agent Craig Kimbrel, but they would likely wait until after the draft to do so to avoid giving up a compensatory pick.
They need to fix this situation and fast. Games like Friday are going to keep happening until they stabilize the bullpen. If every game truly does matter as they claim it does, Theo Epstein and the Cubs need to be proactive in fixing this problem.