The Cubs bullpen has gone from a problem area to a seemingly automatic endgame.
Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman preserved a tight lead as the Cubs beat the White Sox 3-1 Thursday night in front of 41,157 fans at Wrigley Field, evening up the season series between the two Chicago teams.
Manager Joe Maddon got to employ his best-case scenario as John Lackey accounted for six innings before Strop pitched the seventh, Rondon got two outs in the eighth and then Chapman came in for the final four outs.
"It's awesome," Cubs leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler said. "We have what they call the three-headed monster now. Those guys cut the game down."
Rondon got into a little trouble as Tyler Saladino led off the eighth with a double into the left-field corner in a one-run game, but the former Cubs closer struck out Adam Eaton and got Tim Anderson to ground out.
With Melky Cabrera — who has been swinging a hot bat — up next, Maddon came out to replace Rondon with the new 105 mph closer.
Chapman didn't even mess around with offspeed stuff, just blowing the ball right by Cabrera to end the threat.
"He's your guy and if you let that save moment get away ... it's an entirely different moment for him," Maddon said. "So definitely wanted to give him that opportunity to convert the save."
The Cubs tacked on a run in the bottom of the eighth as Ben Zobrist led off with a double, advanced to third on Eaton's error and then scored on Addison Russell's ground out.
Chapman was drama-free in the ninth, retiring all three of the hitters he faced to earn his first save as a Cub.
Maddon said he talked to Chapman pregame about the possibility of a multi-inning save and then broached the topic to the All-Star closer again mid-game.
Even 37-year-old Lackey in his 14th season in the big leagues can sit by and become a spectator on the edge of his seat when Chapman comes into the game.
"It's been a cool atmosphere, for sure," Lackey said. "Playing [the White Sox] and with him coming in the game last night, that was fun to be in the dugout and check that out.
"It's definitely something you want to tune in to see, for sure."
Fowler was his classic "you go, we go" self, scoring the Cubs' first two runs against Sox ace Chris Sale — first on an RBI double from Kris Bryant on the Cubs' second batter of the game and then later on Zobrist's single up the middle in the third inning.
Lackey allowed only the one run and it came in the first inning when Tim Anderson reached on an infield single and then scored on Cabrera's double into the right-field corner.
It was Lackey's first victory since June 8, but he only threw 84 pitches and he wasn't happy about coming out of the game early.
With the Cubs' new bullpen able to cover the final three innings on most nights, the starters may not be asked to go as deep into games.
When asked about quicker hooks, Lackey said, "We'll see," before adding, "It's definitely lengthened the bullpen for sure with him at the back end. You feel good about Stroppy in the seventh inning; Ronnie as an eighth inning guy is pretty special. I can see that possibly happening."
Maddon doesn't expect his starters to like the quicker hooks, especially the ultra-competitive Lackey.
"There's nothing to sell with Johnny," Maddon said. "Maybe a six-pack. Or a 12-pack might sell. That's about the only chance I got.
"Maybe some new boots. That's all I got. I have no shot."