Craig Kimbrel’s big season is helping the Chicago Cubs win games

(Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs were looking for a ticket to another playoff appearance in 2019. After a few seasons of frustrating offensive outputs putting a damper on their previous early playoff exits, the Cubs’ front office felt if they could solidify their bullpen, they could give their core pieces another shot.

It would be a decision that would lead to much derision towards the former front office but now with key remaining members like Jed Hoyer still around, it may be the right time for Craig Kimbrel to shine.

The Chicago Cubs are very happy with the way Craig Kimbrel has pitched in 2021.

Kimbrel can be considered the top closer of the decade, for quality of statistics and for the duration. He has made 7 All-Star teams between his early decade stops in Atlanta, and the latter half of the decade in Boston. If the Cubs were going to struggle scoring runs, at least have a knockout bullpen to keep things close. It wasn’t pretty at first, however, as Kimbrel’s Cubs career could not have gotten off to a worse start.

Looking back on what was a very odd situation, Kimbrel did not have any suitors after an abysmal 2018 postseason with the Red Sox. He ended up missing Spring Training as well as April and May waiting to be signed. A player like him can’t just walk in and sit down Major League hitters.

Kimbrel was rusty during the summer of 2019 and the time off may have led to a season-ending knee inflammation saga in September. He didn’t fare much better with the irregular 2020 season as a small majority of players never got their timing down from awkward layoffs and condensed schedules.

In 2021, when a Chicago Cubs roster in the middle of a massive transition needed him the most, Kimbrel along with the rest of the Cubs bullpen has routinely shined. With Cubs starters not digging deep into games and sometimes not leaving the best box score when they do, the Cubs bullpen is ranked 2nd in the league in efficiency led by Kimbrel. He isn’t lights out as he was in his 20’s but he has enough left to be efficient and an All-Star.

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Cubs manager David Ross knows when to utilize Kimbrel and find the right situations. He has set 2021 on fire with 35 strikeouts in 21 innings, a 0.86 WHIP, and an ERA under 1.00. It’s enough of a sample size to say that is legitimate and could lead to another All-Star appearance. Closers like Kimbrel are immensely valuable as Aroldis Chapman showed in 2016 for the Cubs. It could give the team more reasons to focus on getting to the postseason to take advantage of him.