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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Cubs Rally to Win a Wild One

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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.

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Wood Dazzles in Win Over Reds

Cubs Final 4-15

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Travis Wood was dominant all night long as the lefty shut down the Reds, and led the Cubs to a 5-0 victory to take the series.  It didn’t take long for the Cubs to grab a lead as Anthony Rizzo blasted his first home run of the season in the first, a majestic two-run shot to right.  The Cubs flashed the leather all night behind Wood, Starlin Castro in particular, he made two outstanding plays to help preserve the shut out, and the lead.  The only bad news in this one was an injury to Neil Ramirez, the right-hander left after just three pitches in the ninth inning.  Ramirez will go for an MRI tomorrow, the initial diagnosis is right shoulder discomfort, that doesn’t sound great.  First place!

At the Plate:

  • Dexter Fowler is proving to be a solid lead-off hitter for the Cubs, he was 2-for-4 with a walk, a double, and two runs scored.
  • Anthony Rizzo finally got on the board with a dinger, he was 1-for-4 with said homer, a walk, two RBI’s, and a run scored.
  • Jorge Soler continued his production, he was 1-for-3 with a walk, and an RBI.
  • Starlin Castro had an outstanding game, he was 2-for-3 with a walk, a double, and a run scored.

Rizzo goes way back!

On the Mound:

  • All Travis Wood tonight, stellar.  He worked seven scoreless innings, giving up just three hits while walking two and striking out seven.
  • Phil Coke worked a solid scoreless inning in relief.
  • Neil Ramirez got hurt in the ninth, so Brian Schlitter had to close it out, he worked a scoreless inning, giving up one hit while striking out one.

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Arrieta Powers Past Cardinals

Cubs 4-8-15 Scorecard

I’m so glad the Cubs didn’t cancel the season after Sunday, because that was fun.  It was a pitchers day at Wrigley, but I’m not sure if 80 degrees and sun would have mattered as Jake Arrieta, and Lance Lynn were brilliant.  Luckily for the Cubs, Arrieta was better, but not by much.  Both guys were dealing, and the winning run came as a result of a hit batter, and a wild throw on a pick-off, go figure.  After Rizzo was hit by a pitch in the 7th, and advanced to second on said wild pick-off, Starlin Castro delivered the game winning single, it was a super lazy single though…

Back to Arrieta, early on he didn’t have his best stuff as he had to battle through trouble in the first and third inning before settling into a groove.  Arrieta worked seven scoreless innings, giving up three hits while walking three, and striking out seven en route to his first win of the season.  For the second straight game the Cubs bullpen displayed just how dangerous they could be, dangerous in a good way, not a Carlos Marmol way.  Phil Coke, Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop, and Hector Rondon combined to pitch the last two innings with Rondon picking up his first save of the season.

Cubs 4-8 box scor

 

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Thud, Cubs Come up Empty in Opener

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It was still exciting, it was cool to get the national exposure on opening night, it sucked getting shut out, it is what it is.  Jon Lester struggled with his command early and often, and the Cubs couldn’t find a clutch hit all night in a 3-0 loss to the Cardinals.  A little more about not being clutch, the Cubs were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position tonight, no bueno.  Conversely the Cardinals went 3-got-14 and that was the difference.  Wainwright was his usual self, but had trouble with his breaking pitches early on Lester Openerwhich drove up his pitch count.  Waino was able to work his way through six innings to get the win.  Lester took the loss in this one as he wasn’t able to escape the 5th inning, he gave up three runs on eight hits, while walking two, and striking out five.

One of the bright spots of the evening was the Cubs bullpen, Phil Coke, Jason Motte, Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop, and Hector Rondon combined to work 4.2 scoreless inning, giving up two hits while waking two, and striking out five.  I was happy with the at bats the Cubs players had tonight, not many of them were thrown away, they battled.  You’re not going to face a pitcher the caliber of Wainwright every night , tip you cap and go take your frustrations out on Lance Lynn on Tuesday Night.  One down, one hundred and sixty one to go, I still think there will be more good than bad, but can someone kidnap Heyward and send him to the Indians or something?  All in all I think the new look/unfinished Wrigley held up well, I’m sure we will hear some horror stories from fans tomorrow, but on the surface it looked good.

 

April 5 2015 Recap 2
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Cubs No Match For Taijuan Walker

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I’m not even mad.  Taijuan Walker put on a pitching clinic last night in what had to be the fastest spring training game in the History of ever.  The Cubs couldn’t do much of anything against the young right-hander, and they could only manage six hits in the 3-2 loss.  Travis Wood wasn’t terrible, he just couldn’t keep up in the five innings he worked.  Wood gave up three runs on five hits, while walking two, and striking out three, his spring ERA sits at 4.19 which is fine.  The pen did some work last night, Pedro Strop, Phil Coke, and Hector Rondon combined to work three scoreless innings, giving up one hit while walking two, and striking out four.

Fake Rally

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Hammel Leads Cubs Back Into Win Column

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Jason Hammel cemented his status as the Cubs number three starter this afternoon by baffling the defending AL Champ Royals in a 4-3 win.  Hammel was brilliant going four scoreless innings, giving up two hits while striking out three, the outing lowered his spring ERA to six, it’s been rough.  Phil Coke, Zac Rosscup, and Stephen Perakslis all had scoreless outings with Perakslis nailed down the save.  Anthony Rizzo who has struggled in finding his timing this spring had a solid game, he went 2-for-2 with an RBI, his second of the spring.  Junior Lake, Starlin Castro, and Jonathan Herrera all chipped in with one RBI each in the win.

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