Chicago Cubs: Kimbrel addition gives team a mental edge

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

Chicago Cubs reliever Craig Kimbrel made his season debut on Thursday, earning his first save as a Cub. Here’s why his addition adds gives a mental boost to the entire team.

The Chicago Cubs signed free-agent reliever Craig Kimbrel to a three-year deal in early June as a late effort to shore up the end of their bullpen. The team’s relief pitchers have been effective so far, but the lack of a clear 9th inning guy was a problem.

Reliever Pedro Strop filled in as the team’s closer after Brandon Morrow suffered an injury setback early in the season. It’s unclear if Morrow will be healthy again this season and able to return to the team.

While Strop performed reasonably well, it was clear he wasn’t going to fit in as the team’s full-time closer. Strop has blown two saves in 11 chances and currently sits with a 4.86 ERA and 1.020 WHIP.

His numbers aren’t terrible, but they’re not good enough for a team that plans to be in contention for the World Series. Strop has been effective as a middle reliever almost his entire Cubs career. He’s finished with an ERA under 3.00 each season as a Cub.

Signing Kimbrel was a risk because he wouldn’t budge on wanting a multiple year contract, but he’s a needed addition to a team that’s barely hanging on to first place in the NL Central.

Kimbrel is a true closer who also drew interest from the Milwaukee Brewers, the team behind the Cubs in the division. Not only does Kimbrel’s addition keep him away from the Brewers, but it also means the team doesn’t have to wait for Morrow to get healthy.

Kimbrel came into the ninth inning of a wild game against the Atlanta Braves on Thursday. The Cubs, once trailing 6-1 early in the game, stormed back with eight runs over three innings. They went into the ninth up 9-7.

The crowd came alive when Kimbrel entered the game for his first appearance in a Cubs uniform. After getting two quick outs, he struggled a bit by giving up a walk and a base hit. The winning run came to the plate in the form of Braves power hitter Freddie Freeman.

There was a nervous energy in the stadium as Kimbrel set up for the game-defining moment, and it seemed there’d be more trouble when a sharp grounder hit to first base was fielded by Anthony Rizzo without Kimbrel covering the base.

Rizzo beat Freeman in a footrace to the bag, and the Cubs won a nailbiter at home.  It wasn’t perfect, but Kimbrel boosted the team’s confidence. Catcher Willson Contreras spoke about this after the game (Via NBCSN Chicago):

"That gave me chills, he was really impressive when he came into the game. The crowd received him well. We did too. What he did today, we needed it."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon echoed those sentiments and noticed how Kimbrel’s entry into the game gave the team a lift (Via The Athletic):

"There’s definitely a little bit of kick to it. The guys felt it. I was watching them watch him as he came in. I was watching him, that’s where my focus was. Primarily, this was a tough moment to come into. I know he’s done well…But it’s a tough moment emotionally to come into."

It’s clear from these comments and others that the team definitely feels better with Kimbrel pitching the ninth. Hopefully, the hitters in the lineup won’t press as much when the team is clinging to a one-run lead and fans can breathe a little easier, too.

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Kimbrel may take time to get ramped up, but it’s exciting to see an electric reliever coming out of the Cubs bullpen in the ninth inning again. Keep checking Da Windy City for more updates on Kimbrel and the Cubs.