Joe Maddon ready to unleash Justin Wilson out of Cubs bullpen built for October

Joe Maddon ready to unleash Justin Wilson out of Cubs bullpen built for October

Joe Maddon ended the World Series drought that lasted more than a century, made a dream come true for generations of Cubs fans and cemented his own Hall of Fame status – and still got hammered for the way he managed his bullpen last October into early November.

Think Maddon is pumped and already running through ways to deploy Justin Wilson and maximize the Cubs bullpen?

Maddon could never put up a “Help Wanted” sign in the dugout and send that negative message to the clubhouse. But during his media sessions over the weekend, the manager clearly laid out the reasons why Theo Epstein’s front office should add a big-time reliever before Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline in Chicago.

Alex Avila is the bonus from that deal with the Detroit Tigers: A respected veteran catcher with some left-handed pop (11 homers, .869 OPS this season) who can help prevent Willson Contreras from breaking down.

“Both of them add a lot of veteran presence to our already existing good group,” Maddon said at his charity golf event at Bryn Mawr Country Club in Lincolnwood. “This time of the year, when you add people like that – and the players in the clubhouse know that it’s going to make you better – it makes the vibe even greater than.”

As good as the bullpen has been so far this season – ranking second in the National League in ERA (3.34), batting average against (.212) and opponents’ OPS (.652) – the Cubs don’t have the same express lane to the postseason that they did last year.

That is when every moment is magnified and trusted relievers become even more valuable. Wilson notched 13 saves for the Tigers this year, putting up a 2.68 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP with 55 strikeouts in 40-plus innings, giving Maddon another option in front of All-Star closer Wade Davis.

This is Maddon’s ideal of neutrality, someone who can get out right-handed (.131 batting average) and left-handed hitters (.220) and has already made four playoff appearances with the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees.

“I’ve seen Wilson pitch in the American League – I’ve always liked his stuff. How could you not?” Maddon said. “When you get another guy like Justin, what it permits you to do is rotate the stock a little bit and not burn anybody out.”

[RELATED: Cubs loaded for another World Series run with Justin Wilson and Alex Avila]

To keep riding that momentum from a 13-3 run since the All-Star break, Maddon knows he will beat up the bullpen. Pedro Strop (46) and Carl Edwards Jr. (46) are already top-25 NL relievers in terms of appearances. Koji Uehara is 42 years old and has given up three homers in his last six appearances after allowing only one through his first 29.2 innings this season.

By this October, will Strop and Hector Rondon be in or out of Maddon’s circle of trust? Wilson will also become another left-handed look to go with Brian Duensing (2.47 ERA, 49 strikeouts, 10 walks in 43.2 innings) and Mike Montgomery (who got the last out in last year’s World Series).

“If you have multiple late-inning, high-leverage kind of dudes at the end of the game, then you don’t burn anybody’s candle out,” Maddon said. “You can’t do that, because we still have a couple months left – and then you have the postseason to follow – so you want to be careful with your guys.”

Wilson and Avila will arrive at Wrigley Field just in time for a six-game homestand that begins Tuesday night against two potential playoff opponents – the Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals – for a team that isn’t messing around and wants to win another World Series.

“We do enjoy this moment at this time of the year,” Maddon said. “I’ve said it a thousand times that situations like this should bring out the best in everybody – players, coaches, managers, organizations. I know our guys are going to love it.”

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Are the Mets back in contention?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Are the Mets back in contention?

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

New York Mets

2017 record: 70-92, 4th place in NL East

Offseason additions: Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez, Anthony Swarzak, Jason Vargas, Jose Lobaton, A.J. Griffin

Offseason departures: Neil Walker

X-factor: Pitching health

For everybody.

The Mets pitchers are suddenly not-so-young and they have zero World Series rings to show for it. In major part because they haven't all been healthy at the same time since that 2015 season in which they shut the Cubs right down out of the NLCS.

Will they ever be healthy again? Who knows? But if — somehow — Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Robert Gsellman are all healthy at the same time and pitching like they're capable of, it's gonna be tough to keep this Mets team at bay (even with an aging lineup).

Of course, expecting that to happen is probably foolish, but it's definitely within the realm of possibility.

Projected lineup

1. Brandon Nimmo - CF
2. Yoenis Cespedes - LF
3. Jay Bruce - RF
4. Todd Frazier - 3B
5. Adrian Gonzalez - 1B
6. Asdrubal Cabrera - 2B
7. Travis d'Arnaud - C
8. Amed Rosario - SS

Projected rotation

1. Noah Syndergaard
2. Jacob deGrom
3. Steven Matz
4. Matt Harve
5. Zack Wheeler


We've already discussed the starting pitching health. The Mets also have a solid bullpen that will be improved with Jeurys Familia avoiding suspension and Swarzak's arrival after a breakout 2017 with the White Sox and Brewers.

This lineup has been productive in the past, but it's very old. The 2-through-6 hitters are all on the wrong side of 30 and on the bench, Jose Reyes is 34. 

Rosario (22), Nimmo (24) and Michael Conforto (25) inject some youth into this club, but Conforto is hampered by a shoulder injury and doesn't expect to join the team until at least a few weeks into the 2018 season.

Still, if they can stave off Father Time, this lineup should score some runs, even if they're a station-to-station bunch of slow-footed fellows. 

If the rotation is spinning the way they are capable of, the lineup should score enough runs to win a decent amount of ballgames. Thanks to depth on the bench (Reyes, Wilmer Flores, Juan Lagares), the Mets should be OK even if one or two of their old guys hit the 10-day DL.

But this all hinges on pitching. Syndergaard and deGrom are a dynamic 1-2 punch, but MAJOR question marks follow. 

The Mets will probably be a part of the wild card race in the NL, but ultimately won't be playing come October. Too many "ifs".

Prediction: 2nd in NL East, no playoffs

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves
New York Mets

As Opening Day approaches, Cubs roster comes into focus


As Opening Day approaches, Cubs roster comes into focus

With less than a week until Opening Day, the Cubs' roster is all but set.

Joe Maddon told reporters in Arizona Friday the Cubs will roll with eight relievers to open the season, which doesn't come as any surprise. 

Left-handed pitcher Randy Rosario was optioned to Triple-A Iowa, leaving Eddie Butler and Shae Simmons as the two most likely guys to take the final bullpen spot.

Butler, 27, is out of minor-league options, which means if the Cubs do not keep him on their big-league roster, they risk losing him on waivers. Simmons still has two options remaining.

Butler also represents more starting pitching depth for the team beyond their five-man rotation and Mike Montgomery. Theo Epstein's front office likes to enter a season with 8-10 starting pitching options in case of injury, so it'd be hard to see the team getting rid of their No. 7 guy on that depth chart.

This spring, Butler has pitched 10 innings over five games with a 4.50 ERA and five strikeouts. He made 11 starts and two bullpen appearances with the 2017 Cubs, posting a 3.95 ERA and 1.43 WHIP.

Simmons, 27, signed with the Cubs as a free agent Feb. 16 and pitched nine games with the Seattle Mariners last year. He's appeared in four games for the Cubs this spring, pitching to a 2.45 ERA with five strikeouts in 3.2 innings.

In carrying eight relievers, that only leaves one position player spot available (backup catcher). Outfielder Peter Bourjos is expected to start the season in the minor leagues.

Veteran backstop Chris Gimenez will probably get the nod on the big-league roster over youngster Victor Caratini.

Gimenez comes with experience and a knowledge and relationship with Yu Darvish and we do have confirmation Darvish is making the Opening Day roster:

The Cubs really like Caratini and he's arguably their top position player prospect, but at age 24, he needs to play every day and see regular at-bats, which he wouldn't get backing up Willson Contreras in Chicago.

With that, here's the projected Cubs' Opening Day roster:


Willson Contreras
Chris Gimenez


Anthony Rizzo
Kris Bryant
Addison Russell
Javy Baez
Tommy La Stella
Ben Zobrist


Ian Happ
Kyle Schwarber
Albert Almora Jr.
Jason Heyward

Starting pitchers

Jon Lester
Kyle Hendricks
Yu Darvish
Jose Quintana
Tyler Chatwood


Brandon Morrow (closer)
Carl Edwards Jr.
Pedro Strop
Justin Wilson
Steve Cishek
Brian Duensing
Mike Montgomery
Eddie Butler