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.
It’s noticeable, the Cubs don’t quit. After blowing a 4-2 lead in the sixth, and falling behind 8-5 in the 7th, the Cubs charged back, scoring four times over the final two innings to win 9-8. Trailing 8-6 in the ninth, the Cubs loaded the bases with no outs and Starlin Castro came through with his third hit of the evening to tie things up. Kris Bryant scored on a Welington Castillo ground out, and Hector Rondon shut the door, what an absolutely outstanding victory. With the win the Cubs have now won two games after trailing heading into the ninth, you know how many times that happened last year? Zero. Welcome to Chicago Cubs baseball, you should probably start watching.
At the Plate:
- Anthony Rizzo is an on base machine, he was 2-for-4 with two runs scored, and he was hit by another pitch.
- Jorge Soler finished strong in this 0ne, he was 2-for-5 with a double, and two runs scored.
- Kris Bryant, just wow, he was 2-for-4 with a double, a walk, two RBI’s, and one run scored.
- Starlin Castro is shutting a lot of people up, he was 3-for-5 with a dinger, four RBI’s, and a run scored. He’s hitting .352 on the season.
- Welington Castillo got a start tonight, and he made it count, he was 2-for-5 with a homer, double, two RBI’s, and a run scored.
On the Mound:
- Travis Wood got the start tonight, and was decent, he worked five innings, giving up three runs on four hits while walking two, and striking out five.
- Brian Schlitter continued his rough 2015, he worked two-thirds of an inning, giving up two runs on three hits while walking one.
- Phil Coke got out of Schlitter’s trouble, he retired the last batter of the sixth.
- Jason Motte struggled tonight, he worked one inning, giving up three runs on two hits while walking one.
- Edwin Jackson was perfect tonight, and he picked up the win, he worked a scoreless inning while striking out one.
- Hector Rondon was just disgusting tonight, he worked a scoreless ninth for his third save of the season.
Kris Bryant with an RBI double.
Things started out well enough today as the Cubs jumped on the listless Padres with two runs in the bottom of the first. I say listless because the Padres were sleepwalking in the first, they made two errors and looked generally disinterested. From that point on it was all Padres, as they scored five unanswered runs en route to a 5-2 win. Jon Lester was just okay again today, he worked into the sixth inning but made far too many mistakes up in the zone, he needs a road start or two to settle in. The Cubs threatened a few times as they left the bases-loaded twice, and were just 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
At the Plate:
- Dexter Fowler has been swinging it well as of late, he went 2-for-5 with a run scored.
- Jorge Soler remains productive while hitting second in the order, he was 1-for-5 with an RBI, his ninth of the season.
- Kris Bryant had another solid game, he was 1-for-3 with his first double of the season, he was also hit by a pitch.
On the Mound:
- Jon Lester got the start in this one, and also the loss, he worked 5.1 innings, giving up three runs on six hits while walking two, and striking out four.
- Brian Schlitter couldn’t get out of Lester’s trouble, he worked two-thirds of an inning, giving up one hit while striking out one.
- Jason Motte couldn’t keep things close, he tossed one inning, giving up two runs on two hits.
- Edwin Jackson had a solid outing out of the pen today, he worked two scoreless innings, he surrendered one hit.
The Cubs have been busy so far today, mostly off the field. The club has announced that Brian Schlitter, Junior Lake, and Zac Rosscup have all been optioned to Iowa. The news was expected for the most part as all three guys have options left, but there was an outside chance that Lake would make the team. What this does mean is that Matt Szczur is all but a lock for the opening night roster, as Cubs beat writers pointed out on twitter, it’s down to three guys for two spots (Szczur, Sweeney, and Herrera). I think Szczur and Jonathan Herrera have the edge right now, Szczur can play all over the outfield with a tremendous glove, and Hererra would be only the second guy off the bench that can play the infield. This leaves Sweeney as the odd man out, the only thing that he really brings to the table is the left handed bat, but I don’t think that is enough to keep him around. The Cubs also made it clear today that they will be starting the season with three catchers, so Miguel Montero, David Ross, and Welington Castillo will all be in Chicago.
The bullpen is also starting to come together, but the question of what do with Edwin Jackson remains. Jackson will not be a member of the five man staff, and will not act in some sort of piggyback role with Travis Wood, so what to do? The Cubs have already made a huge financial commitment to Jackson so cutting him doesn’t seem to be an option, but the Cubs could admit the mistake and move on. If I had to guess, I think that Drake Britton will be waived, and the bullpen will have Jackson as a long guy which means the Cubs will carry only one left-handed arm in the pen, Phil Coke. Still a lot to figure out as we are now only four days from the start of the season.
It’s been a productive couple days for the Cubs lineup, yesterday they scored 14 runs, and they added seven more to their spring total today. Once again the long ball played a large role in the victory as Miguel Montero, Junior Lake, and Matt Szczur all had a dinger. Edwin Jackson turned in a good outing, and the Cubs defense threw the ball around the field with a purpose, things are coming together nicely.
Miguel Montero Dinger
Cubs Gun Down Gordon
Baez With a Solid Throw
Edwin Jackson did himself no favors today as the Athletics put a hurting on the right-hander. E-Jax gave up eight runs on nine hits in just 1.2 innings of work, his spring ERA sits at a meteoric 7.59, yuck. The result was never really in question today with the A’s scoring ten times through three frames en route to a 14-2 victory. How did the Cubs get their runs you ask? Well, the usual ways. Jorge Soler had an RBI single, and Kris Bryant increased his ridiculous home run total to nine on the spring. Bryant did make his third error of the spring this afternoon, but no one is talking about that, except the Cubs front office (wink, wink). Not a lot of things went well today, but one bright spot was the Cubs walked nine(!) times, sure they were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, but NINE WALKS.
The Cubs and Diamondbacks battle under the lights tonight, 8:40 PM CST to be exact, and the game is on CSN Chicago. Edwin Jackson gets the ball for the Cubs tonight looking to build on a strong start his last time out. Decisions are looming in regards to who makes the team, and specifically who makes the rotation. The 5th spot looks to be coming down to Travis Wood, and Edwin Jackson, I think Wood has that spot nailed down, but then that leaves a question mark of what to do with Jackson. A good start might go a long way for Jackson who I don’t think will be an effective arm out of the pen, he really hasn’t been effective in the rotation either, we’ll see.
1. Fowler – CF
2. Coghlan – LF
3. Castro – SS
4. Rizzo – 1B
5. Soler – RF
6. Olt – 3B
7. Baez – 2B
8. Castillo – C
9. Jackson – SP