Cubs manager Joe Maddon is tightening the circle of trust and ready to unleash All-Star closer Wade Davis out of the bullpen.
After dealing with the fallout from how he handled Aroldis Chapman during last year’s World Series run, Maddon took a more conservative approach with Davis and a big-picture look at his relievers (without publicly second-guessing himself about Game 7).
But after getting swept by the Milwaukee Brewers last weekend, Maddon finally sensed the moment and asked pitching coach Chris Bosio to broach the subject of Davis working multiple innings and getting four- or five-out saves in a tight three-team division race.
“I’ve already had the conversation with him,” Maddon said Thursday. “He’s aware. He’s onboard. But I’m trying to avoid that as long as we possibly can.”
Maddon might not have a choice during this weekend’s showdown against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field. The Cubs just moved lefty swingman Mike Montgomery to the bullpen, in part, to cover for Justin Wilson, who was supposed to be another high-leverage guy but has bombed since getting traded from the Detroit Tigers at the July 31 deadline (14 walks, 14 hits, 6.39 ERA in 16 appearances).
Maddon pulled Wilson in the middle of the ninth inning during Tuesday’s 8-3 win over the New York Mets, forcing Pedro Strop to get the last two outs. The Cubs also appeared to be phasing out Koji Uehara, who has been sidelined with an infection in his right knee and struggling near the end of his age-42 season.
With 11 games against the Cardinals and Brewers still looming this month – and less than three games separating those three teams – it now looks like Maddon trusts four relievers in critical situations beyond Davis: Strop, Montgomery, Brian Duensing and Carl Edwards Jr.
“It is a concern,” Maddon said. “I can’t deny that. Absolutely. That’s such a big part of this time of the year. It’s a big part of the playoffs.
“The threat, the concern, is that if you don’t get enough viable arms, you are going to wear somebody out. When you’re trying to not wear people out – and now all of a sudden you’re going to wear them out – that would be very detrimental.
“There’s no question we have to solidify the bullpen in different roles. To have to warm people up in blowout wins is really disconcerting and it makes it much more difficult.”
After Chapman headlined a record-setting winter for closers – and a franchise record 29-for-29 in save chances so far – Davis will cash in as a free agent. But first the Cubs can deploy Davis as a weapon for the game’s biggest outs, the way the Kansas City Royals got creative and aggressive with their bullpen decisions while winning back-to-back American League pennants and the 2015 World Series.
“He’s aware it’s any time right now,” Maddon said. “He’s ready to do it."