Afternoon Delight: Dominant Bullpen on the Horizon?

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The bullpen is a tricky thing, from year to year guys come and go, and every once in a while a team boasts a dominant bullpen relatively out of nowhere.  Off-season acquisitions, and power arms marinating on the farm are usually catalysts for such success, but injuries, and unforeseen ineffectiveness can derail the pen quickly.  Given the large number of variables that go into predicting the success of a bullpen it’s usually an exercise in futility, but here goes…  The Cubs’ bullpen has a chance to be dominant (They all do!  You’re screaming), well, let’s just look at the options, shall we?

The Cubs have a solid core group of guys coming back this year, which could point to a reasonable amount of success in 2016.  I base this mostly on the fact that the Cubs had the 8th best bullpen ERA in the Majors last year, and names like Brian Schlitter, Rafael Soriano, Edwin Jackson (wasn’t too terrible in this role), Gonzalez Germen, and Phil Coke were members of said pen.  To be fair, guys like Trevor Cahill, and Travis Wood exceeded expectations in rather unfamiliar bullpen roles last year, and it wouldn’t be crazy to think that they will come back down to Earth a bit.  The fact remains though, the best arms out of that Cubs pen are back this year, and there really is no reason to expect a significant drop in performance.  Let’s break down the possible bullpen roles, yes, despite the crazy competition that will be taking place this spring.

Closer – Hector Rondon

Set up – Pedro Strop

Set up – Justin Grimm

Middle Relief – Adam Warren (acquisition) (Rotation Chance)

Middle Relief – Rex Brothers (acquisition)

Middle Relief – Neil Ramirez

Long Relief – Travis Wood

Long Relief – Trevor Cahill (Rotation chance)

On paper… on paper, that looks pretty darn good, and obviously as I write this I’m using the most optimistic thoughts as possible.  A big key here is the health of Neil Ramirez, he was outstanding in 2014, and parts of 2015 when he wasn’t battling back from injuries, a healthy Ramirez goes a long way towards a great 2016.  Adam Warren proves to be an upgrade over guys that the Cubs had to turn to last year in tough spots, like Jason Motte (again, ignore the injuries for the sake of this conversation).  There is also a chance that Warren will have an opportunity to win a rotation spot, but guys with flexibility are all the rage for Joe Maddon.  Rex Brothers, who was dominate in 2013, and struggled mightily in 2014, looks to bounce back, and if he does proves to be another rather large upgrade.  Young arms like Carl Edwards Jr., Duane Underwood Jr., and Pierce Johnson could also make an impact in the Cubs pen this year despite being starters while working their way through the organization, save for Edwards Jr. last year.

The talent pool is better than last year, and the depth is better as well, those two things put the Cubs in a good spot to start the spring.  If injuries pop up, like they absolutely will, the Cubs are in a better position to handle them, and still might have a few new additions that could surprise during camp, and win a job.

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Riding the Bus: May 7, 2015 (Cubs Minor League Recaps)

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THURSDAY • MAY 7, 2015

Myrtle Beach 5-7 Final

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Walk-off!  The Pelicans improved to a seasons best seven games over .500 with a 2-1 win over Salem thanks to a Billy McKinney walk-off dinger!  You can also thank Duane Underwood for dominating on the mound.

At the Plate:

  • Mark Zagunis is an on base machine, he was 0-for-2 with three walks in the win.
  • Billy McKinney is similar to Zagunis in regards to being one of those on base machines, he was 1-for-1 with FOUR walks, said walk-off dinger, an RBI, and a run scored.
  • Jacob Rogers, and Trey Martin each had one hit, both singles.

On the Mound:

  • Duane Underwood Jr. got the start tonight, and was brilliant.  He worked seven innings, giving up one run on three hits while walking one, and striking out four.
  • Juan Paniagua was solid out of the pen, he worked two scoreless innings while striking out one.
  • Michael Heesch picked up his second win of the season, he worked a scoreless inning in doing so.

Tennessee Smokies 5-7 Final

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A tough loss for the Smokies as they saw an early 4-0 lead slip away in a 5-4 loss.  The Smokies scored four times in the first inning and couldn’t find anymore offense the rest of the way.

At the Plate:

  • Albert Almora has picked up where he left off before the injury, he was 1-for-4 with a run scored, he’s hitting .310 on the season.
  • Kyle Schwarber was solid in this one, he went 1-for-4 with a run scored.
  • Bijan Rademacher had the big hit for the Smokies, he was 1-for-4 with a double, and three RBI’s.
  • Elliot Soto was the best of the bunch tonight, he was 2-for-3 with an RBI.

On the Mound:

  • Corey Black got the start, and he struggled with his command, he worked five innings, giving up three runs on four hits while walking four, and striking out seven.
  • Fernando Cruz was outstanding out of the pen, he worked three scoreless innings, giving up one run, unearned, on one hit while striking out four.
  • Stephen Perakslis picked up the loss in this one, he worked two-thirds of an inning, giving up one run on three hits.

South Bend 5-7 Final

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Things got a little close late in this one but the South Bend Cubs hung on to beat Bowling Green 3-2.  Not many teams can say that as Bowling Green boasts a 17-11 record on the year, tonight the Cubs had just enough.

At the Plate:

  • Charcer Burks has been great this year, it continued tonight, he was 1-for-3 with two walks, and two RBI’s.
  • Justin Marra found some extra base magic, he was 1-for-3 with a double, and a walk.
  • Jesse Hodges was solid as well, he went 1-for-3 with his fifth double of the year, a walk, and a run scored.
  • Jeffrey Baez had a nice game, he went 1-for-3 with a walk, and a run scored, maybe that will get him going.
  • Gleyber Torres continues to get on base, he was 1-for-4 with a walk in the win.

On the Mound:

  • Zach Hedges got the start, and he does what he usually does, put up zeroes.  He worked five scoreless innings, giving up three hits while walking two, and striking out four.
  • Ryan McNeil was decent out of the pen, he worked two scoreless innings, giving up one run on two hits while striking out two.
  • Jordan Minch was touched up, he worked 1.2 innings, giving up one run on one hit while walking one, and striking out two.
  • James Farris had his shortest outing of the year, but it was all he needed to pick up his third save of the year.  He worked a third of an inning to shut the door.

Iowa Cubs 5-7 Final

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The Iowa Cubs didn’t have much going in this one, but found a way to push four runs across the plate in the seventh for a 4-1 victory in Nashville.

At the Plate:

  • Arismendy Alcantara has been flashing the power in Iowa, he was 1-for-4 with a walk, his fourth dinger, two RBI’s, a stolen base, and a run scored.
  • Mike Baxter has been solid all year, he was 2-for-4 with a run scored, he’s now hitting .314 on the season.
  • Jonathan Mota was right in the middle of the action, he went 2-for-4 with a run scored in the win.
  • John Andreoli, Chris Valaika, and Taylor Davis all had one hit tonight.

On the Mound:

  • Tsuyoshi Wada got the start, and continues to make a push to be promoted, he worked 5.2 innings, giving up one run on four hits while walking two, and striking out six.
  • Gonzalez Germen has been awesome in Iowa, he worked 1.1 scoreless innings to pick up his third win, he struck out two in the process.
  • Blake Cooper worked a scoreless inning to pick up his second hold of the year.
  • Brian Schlitter worked a scoreless ninth to pick up his first save of the season.

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Riding the Bus: April 18, 2015 (Cubs Minor League Reports)

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SATURDAY • APRIL 18, 2015

Myrtle Beach 4-18-Game One Final

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Duane Underwood Jr. was brilliant in the first game of the double-header tonight, in fact, he was almost perfect.  Underwood Jr. took a no-hitter into the seventh (last inning of a DH) before giving up a couple hits, so very close.  The Pelicans had six hits in the victory, three of which were of the extra base variety.

At the Plate:

  • Shawon Dunston Jr. had a big game, he was 2-for-3 with a triple, a stolen base, and two runs scored.
  • Jacob Rogers continued his strong year at the plate, he was 1-for-3 with a double, an RBI, and a run scored.
  • Victor Caratini had a similar night, he was 1-for-3 with a double, and an RBI in the win.

On the Mound:

  • Duane Underwood Jr. got the start and the win in this one, he worked six innings, giving up one run on two hits while walking one, and striking out four.
  • Starling Peralta came on in relief of Underwood Jr. and shut the door, he worked a scoreless inning while walking one.

Myrtle Beach 4-18-Game One two

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The Pelicans came out swinging in game two as they scored four times in the top of the first en route to an 8-4 win, and a double-header sweep.  The seven inning game saw the Pelicans pound out twelve hits, once again they went heavy on the extra base hits with five.

At the Plate:

  • Jacob Hannemann was solid at the top of the order, he was 2-for-4 with a double, and two runs scored.
  • Mark Zagunis is a joy to watch at the plate, he was 2-for-2 with a double, a run scored, and two more walks.
  • Billy McKinney had a big game two, he was 2-for-3 with a walk, a double, an RBI, and two runs scored.
  • Jeimer Candelario has been good so far this year, he was 2-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI, and two runs scored in the win.
  • Ben Carhart supplied the power, he was 1-for-2 with a dinger, three RBI’s, and a run scored.

On the Mound:

  • Paul Blackburn didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled and got the win, he worked five innings, giving up four runs, three earned, on seven hits while walking one, and striking out four.
  • Josh Conway was brilliant in picking up the save, he worked two scoreless innings while striking out one.

Tennessee Smokies 4-18 Final

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The Smokies are rolling, they took care of Pensacola tonight to run their record to 6-3 on the season.  Everything was working in this one for the Smokies, they pounded out twelve hits, and scored seven times in the win.  The pitching was on point as well tonight giving up just one run on five hits while striking out ten.

At the Plate:

  • Elliot Soto got the job of leading off tonight, and he did it well.  Soto was 3-for-5 with two runs scored.
  • Albert Almora have a game, he was 5-for-5 with a double, an RBI, a stolen base, and a run scored.
  • Stephen Bruno came up big in this one, he was 1-for-4 with two RBI’s, he’s now hitting .385 on the season.
  • Willson Contreras with a huge contribution off the bench, he was 1-for-1 with a dinger, three RBI’s, and a run scored.

On the Mound:

  • Felix Pena got the start tonight, and was stellar, he worked six innings, giving up one run on four hits while walking two, and striking out six.
  • Fernando Cruz was outstanding out of the pen to pick up his first save of the year, he worked three scoreless innings, giving up one hit while walking two, and striking out four.

South Bend 4-18 Final

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The South Bend Cubs have a disturbing trend of blowing saves, today was their fourth one of the season already.  Things looked very much in hand late as the Cubs led Great Lakes 4-1 heading to the ninth, four runs later and the Cubs saw their record fall to 4-6 on the season.

At the Plate:

  • Trey Martin, and Chesny Young were a solid one-two punch at the top of the order in this won.  Martin went 2-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI, a stolen base, and a run scored.  Young went 1-f0r-4 with a triple  an RBI, and a run scored.
  • Jeffrey Baez had a solid game, he went 1-for-4 with a double, his third of the season.

On the Mound:

  • Zach Hedges was brilliant tonight, he worked five scoreless innings, giving up two hits while striking out three,
  • Tommy Thorpe did a fine job out of the pen, he worked tow innings, giving up one run, unearned, on two hits while walking one, and striking out one.
  • James Farris took the brunt of it in this one, he worked two innings, giving up four runs, two earned, while striking out five.

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