There are 51 games left to go and the bullpen is not settled. Then again, the Cubs have eight weeks to figure it out. If it seems like this has been a never ending process, you would be correct. In fact, the story started last offseason when the Cubs began stockpiling arms in the minors at AA Tennessee and AAA Iowa. Only two of those arms have had any modicum of success in the minors – Spencer Patton and Jack Leathersich. Then, throughout the course of the season, the Cubs have been adding and subtracting to the bullpen per their purview. It has not been a perfect process.
Here is the bullpen as it is constructed now:
Aroldis Chapman, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, Travis Wood, Mike Montgomery, and Joe Smith. Only three of those names began the year in Chicago – Wood, Strop, Rondon. Eight other names have graced the pen – Joel Peralta, Joe Nathan, Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard, Justin Grimm, Gerardo Concepcion, Neil Ramirez, and Adam Warren. Some of these names could return later this year. In addition, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a few other names get a look before the end of August or in September.
Here are ten things I think about the Cubs bullpen
1. I am not sold on Smith and Montgomery at all. Neither pitched much in high leverage situations this year. I know the Cubs brass likes these two pitchers, but I have not seen positive results, although Smith might be starting to warm on me a little because of the unique nature of his delivery. Still, there are 8 weeks to figure out if they make the postseason roster.
2. Aroldis Chapman has been as advertised on the field. 100-104 mph nightly is a good sign for me. However, I am not a fan of the 1+ inning save. If you need him in the 8th, bring him in, but don’t wear him out. “Save” him for October. With a 12 game lead, that should not be too hard.
3. Carl Edwards has fixed his control problems he had in the minors and has been amazing! It’s at the point I love to watch the reactions to his pitches more so than the actual movement and location of his pitches. It sure beats those nights when he was in Tennessee and he would walk the bases loaded to begin the inning. He’s come a long way in a short time as a reliever. He’s definitely an October arm.
4. For all these changes, it appeared as though the Cubs would turn each game into an 6 inning game with Strop, Rondon and Chapman rolling out to close out the game. The starting pitching during the current streak has had a little something to say about that. The rotation seems to go 7-8 innings a game lately.
Cubs’ pitching post All-Star break: A 2.26 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, both No. 1 in MLB. Last time Cubs had 12-game lead in August or later was 1929.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) August 10, 2016
At times, it comes across that the rotation has made the bullpen obsolete. I am OK with that, too, as long as the starters have enough stamina for the postseason.
5. Travis Wood is setting himself up for a big payday this offseason. The future free agent is currently the longest tenured Cub in only his fifth season. And it might be his best out of the pen.
6. Remember the name Jack Leathersich. The Cubs picked him off the scrap heap and his future is bright coming off TJS. Aside from one poor outing at Tennessee, he is slowly making his way back. He could throw another wrench in the postseason roster.
7. Justin Grimm’s attitude is extremely professional. He has taken being optioned as a chance to improve his arsenal. He went down, came back up, and is now back down again. If he gets right, he could be a game changer with his power arm.
8. There are several names that could get a look in September for a shot at the bullpen. For Pierce Johnson, his transition to a relief role comes after a 7+ ERA as a starter who has been beset by injuries throughout his career. He’s only had five outings so far. Throw away his first appearance and you’re looking at 6.2 IP with 10 Ks and 1 run allowed. We won’t talk about his debut as a reliever. I am not advocating for him to be a piece, just that he be in the discussion and September would be the perfect time to get an extended look at the new Pierce in Chicago. You could even call it a preview for 2017 if you want. To go with that reasoning, you could even preview Armando Rivero and Jose Rosario as well.
9. Even though the Cubs have been adding and subtracting to the pen all year, don’t think that they are done. If there’s an arm out there that Theo and Jed think can help them win in October, they will go get it.
10. While I do feel better about this bullpen than I did in May, I am still not 100% confident in the totality of its construction. For now, it’s fine. For October, I am 5/7 of the way there. For some reason, I think Grimm makes it back. As for Trevor Cahill, I think we may have seen the end of him.
51 games, 8 weeks, this should be good.