Brandon Morrow hasn't closed in a decade, but he pitched in every game of the World Series: High leverage enough for you?


Brandon Morrow hasn't closed in a decade, but he pitched in every game of the World Series: High leverage enough for you?

MESA, Ariz. — Brandon Morrow pitched in every game of the World Series.

Is that "high leverage" enough for you?

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Morrow will be the Cubs' new closer on Opening Day, the team's fourth in as many seasons. Wade Davis was sensational in 2017, living up to the hype of being one of baseball's best relievers by converting 32 of his 33 save opportunities, being selected as the Cubs' lone representative at the All-Star Game and striking out Bryce Harper to send the Cubs to their third straight National League Championship Series. But he got a record-setting contract from the Colorado Rockies, meaning Morrow is now the guy on the North Side.

It's not like Morrow is some consolation prize, though. He was terrific as a late-inning man for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season and logged some really important innings during the playoff run that went all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. Morrow turned in a 2.06 ERA during the regular season, then he shut down the Cubs in the NLCS and pitched in all seven games of that epic Fall Classic against the Houston Astros.

It wasn't all pretty, of course. He gave up four runs and two homers without recording an out in that bonkers Game 5. But in his six other outings, he surrendered just one run on four hits over 5.1 innings of work.

No, he hasn't been a go-to closer in a decade. But he's pitched in plenty of important moments and is ready to take on the bullpen's most high-profile role.

"I've closed before. It's been 10 years, but there's so many different places to pull experience from. And I think all the playoff experience last year helps a lot in pressure situations," Morrow said Wednesday at Cubs camp. "That was something that I didn't have before. I pitched in almost every other situation besides a playoff situation and World Series games and coming in with bases loaded, two outs in the World Series and everything like that. I've pretty much seen it all.

"You'll see somebody that is pretty even-keeled. Ups and downs don't really get to me. I'll be out there competing on a daily basis."

Last year was Morrow's lone campaign with the Dodgers after spending his first 10 big league seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays and San Diego Padres. But that was his first postseason, and those experiences pitching for a World Series contender were mighty valuable. Not only did he pitch — and succeed — on the game's biggest and brightest stage, he also got into a closer's mentality, looking at the eighth inning like it was the ninth ahead of the virtual lock of a scoreless frame from Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, one of the league's best.

"I was treating it like I was pitching in the ninth last year," Morrow said. "From a mindset point of view, you've got Kenley behind you, if you get through the eighth, the game's basically over. He's one of the best. So I was thinking, 'If I close out the eighth, we've got Kenley in there and finish it off.' That kind of mindset, trying to prepare myself that way.

"In the playoffs, maybe there's that little bit of butterflies at first, and then it's just baseball at a high level. I think those games definitely prepare you for some tough spots throughout the regular season that you can pull experience from and know that you can keep yourself calm. Over the last 10 years, I've kind of seen it all. I've got a much lower heart rate than I used to."

According to Morrow, the Cubs pitched an important role to him when they signed him, not yet guaranteeing the closer's role should Davis have decided to return to the North Side. But that job is Morrow's now.

If you're still not sold on Morrow as a Davis successor, allow Carl Edwards Jr. to calm your fears with this ringing endorsement.

"Morrow's a great guy. I talked to him, and it's kind of like me talking to Wade Davis all over again," Edwards said. "I'm just looking forward to getting to pick his brain."

Despite a lack of recent closing experience, Morrow was one of the biggest names on the relief-pitching market this winter. Just like they did with Morrow's teammate in Los Angeles, Yu Darvish, the Cubs made the splash they needed to accomplish the only goal that matters these days: winning the World Series. And while Morrow, and Darvish for that matter, didn't do that last season, they came darn close. They've been on that stage, like the rest of these Cubs who won it all in 2016.

For a team seeking championships, that experience is invaluable.

"That was one of the things in free agency that I was looking forward to was 'Are we going to compete?' And obviously the Chicago Cubs are in that small group of teams that you think have a really good chance to win a World Series," Morrow said.

"I'm sure that's high on their list, guys with experience in those situations and guys that have shown that they can handle the pressure and continue to throw strikes and compete."

Playoff tradition? Sign Morrow up. Bullpen dancing? Maybe not so much.

"I keep getting asked that," he said about those post-homer dance parties under the left-field bleachers. "Is that going to continue?

"I might be the awkward one in the corner just bobbing my head."

What you may not know about each member of the 2018 Cubs


What you may not know about each member of the 2018 Cubs

We're in the home stretch now, folks.

Cubs baseball is just around the corner. Leading up to the Opening Day tilt with the Marlins in Miami, here is a rundown of fun facts from each of the 25 guys on the roster:

Tyler Chatwood

The only pitcher in Colorado Rockies history with a save and a shutout in the same season (2017).


Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Reds will waste another year of Joey Votto's greatness


Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Reds will waste another year of Joey Votto's greatness

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:

Cincinnati Reds

2017 record: 68-94, last in NL Central

Offseason additions: Cliff Pennington, David Hernandez, Jared Hughes, Kevin Quackenbush

Offseason departures: Zack Cozart, Scott Feldman, Drew Storen

X-factor: Homer Bailey

Bailey appeared to be entering ace territory when the Reds locked him up to a six-year, $105 million extension before the 2014 season. Over the two years prior (2012-13), he went 24-22 with a 3.58 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 367 strikeouts over 417 innings.

But in the four seasons since he signed that extension, Bailey has pitched just 271 innings, going 17-18 with an ugly 4.95 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. 2017 (6.43 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) was especially ugly.

There is cause for optimism, however. In the final seven starts of the season last year, Bailey posted a 3.58 ERA and 1.19 WHIP.

Bailey is only 31 (and turns 32 in May) so there is still time. He's getting the Reds' Opening Day start and if he can rekindle his top-of-rotation form, it'd go a long way in the team's rebuilding.

Projected lineup

1. Billy Hamilton - CF
2. Jesse Winker - LF
3. Joey Votto - 1B
4. Eugenio Suarez - 3B
5. Scooter Gennett - 2B
6. Jose Peraza - SS
7. Scott Schebler - RF
8. Tucker Barnhart - C 

Projected rotation

1. Homer Bailey
2. Luis Castillo
3. Tyler Mahle
4. Sal Romano
5. Amir Garrett


When you replace Zack Cozart with Cliff Pennington and the "big" free agent splashes were a couple of 32-year-old relief pitchers (Hernandez and Hughes), you're not tryin', bro.

The Reds are in full rebuild mode, which is really sad for Votto in his age-34 season. Somehow, Votto seems to defy aging. He was the best hitter in the NL last year, leading the league in walks, on-base percentage, OPS, OPS+ and intentional walks while passing the 30-homer, 100-RBI threshold for the first time since 2010.

But poor Votto hasn't appeared in the playoffs since 2013 and the Reds are years away from another trip to October, especially in this suddenly-stacked division.

Castillo is a budding ace, Peraza and Winker could be nice pieces for the future, Suarez is locked up long-term and Barnhart is one of the more underrated backstops in the league. Top prospect Nick Senzel is also on his way soon, as are a gaggle of young starting pitchers.

There will inevitably be growing pains for all these inexperienced players, but things could be a lot worse for a rebuilding team. Still, by the time the Reds are ready to contend in 2020 or later, will Votto still be at the top of his game when he's at least 36?

Prediction: Last in NL Central