If the Cubs are really going to take off this season, they're going to need their bullpen firing on all cylinders.
That is going to be tougher without Jason Motte (who landed on the disabled list this week with a strained shoulder), though the Cubs are hoping the addition of Fernando Rodney will help ease the loss of Motte.
Rodney and Motte carry by far the most playoff experience in the bullpen with 29 combined postseason appearances, including Motte closing out a 2011 World Series championship for the Cardinals and Rodney appearing in four games in the 2006 World Series for the Detroit Tigers (who lost to the Cardinals).
The rest of the Cubs bullpen has 12 postseason appearances combined.
Manager Joe Maddon has a reputation for getting the most out of his bullpen, mixing and matching to fill roles that are not automatically defined. Can that help make up for inexperience and ease the press of pitching in big games in October?
It's working right now, as the Cubs rank sixth in Major League Baseball in bullpen WAR (4.2), behind the Yankees, Orioles, Cardinals, Royals and Astros - all teams in the playoff hunt. Cubs relievers have also accounted for the eighth-most innings in the game.
The Cubs bullpen is clicking in August, turning in the third-highest WAR (1.4) in the big leagues and leading baseball with 12 saves. Cubs relievers have a 4.27 ERA this month, but they've been getting unlucky, as evidenced by a 2.80 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching).
"I've been involved in this kind of bullpen in the past," Maddon said. "You need a bunch of guys that are really egoless to make it work. Somebody that's not going to be upset that one night he's pitching in the sixth and maybe the next night he's pitching in the eighth or ninth.
"I think our guys are understanding that. It's just based on your talents vs. theirs and just trying to put the best matchup out there possible."
Motte believes in what Maddon's preaching and agrees that Cubs relievers need to check their ego at the door to make this thing work.
"Honestly in this game, if you think you're better than one person or whatever, it comes back around and catches up with you," Motte said. "So you just have to let it go. The guys in the bullpen, we're all pulling for each other. It doesn't matter who's out there.
"We want that guy to do well because, guess what? If they do well, it makes us want to do well. The old, 'I hope that guy does bad,' and stuff like that is bush league. We're here to win ballgames. It doesn't matter if you're the first guy or the 25th guy on this team."
Maddon has been true to his word with matchups, as seven different pitchers have recorded saves, tied for the most in baseball. Maddon also stresses the importance of getting outs in the fifth and sixth innings, talking about how he loves "middle-inning closers" and giving each reliever their due credit.
"I hear Maddon say you can't have egos on this team, and that's true," Justin Grimm said. "I've been a part of bullpens where a guy might get mad he's not throwing in a situation or stuff like that.
"You can't really be like that. You just gotta keep an open mind and be ready to go from the fifth inning on (and hopefully no earlier than that)."
At the same time, Cubs relievers admit that not having defined roles can take some getting used to.
Motte said the 2011 Cardinals featured the same kind of bullpen the Cubs are running now under Maddon.
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Grimm thinks it can be easier for some guys to mentally prepare for their role if they know what it's going to be ahead of time, but also admits not having time to sit down in the bullpen and think can be a good thing.
"You just take everything in stride," Grimm said. "You stay even-keeled. That's the biggest thing. It's easy to sit down there and say, 'I should be out there pitching in this situation.'
"But until you're out on the mound in that situation, you can sit there and think all you want. It's not going to help the team; it's not going to help you. If you get the pissy-pants or whatever, it might affect your ability to pitch.
"Going out and pitching mad, it's not good. You start to shy away from pitching and you become more of a thrower. You don't have an ego, you keep it even-keeled, come to the field every day, ready to go and prepared for anything."