Carl Edwards Jr.

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

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USA TODAY

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

"Of course," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the middle of the National League Championship — he would like his coaches back in 2018. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told the team's flagship radio station this week that the staff expected to return next year. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn't go that far during Friday afternoon's end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field, but he did say: "Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back."

That's Cub: USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale first reported Saturday morning that Bosio had been fired, a source confirming the team declined a club contract option for next year and made a major influence on the Wrigleyville rebuild a free agent. Epstein and Bosio did not immediately respond to text messages and the club has not officially outlined the shape of the 2018 coaching staff.

Those exit meetings on Friday at Wrigley Field are just the beginning of an offseason that could lead to sweeping changes, with the Cubs looking to replace 40 percent of their rotation, identify an established closer (whether or not that's Wade Davis), find another leadoff option and maybe break up their World Series core of hitters to acquire pitching. 

The obvious candidate to replace Bosio is Jim Hickey, Maddon's longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who has Chicago roots and recently parted ways with the small-market franchise that stayed competitive by consistently developing young arms like David Price and Chris Archer.

Of course, Maddon denied that speculation during an NLCS where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game and the manager's bullpen decisions kept getting second-guessed.

Bosio has a big personality and strong opinions that rocked the boat at times, but he brought instant credibility as an accomplished big-league pitcher who helped implement the team's sophisticated game-planning system.

Originally a Dale Sveum hire for the 2012 season/Epstein regime Year 1 where the Cubs lost 101 games, Bosio helped coach up and market short-term assets like Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. 

Those win-later trades combined with Bosio's expertise led to a 2016 major-league ERA leader (Kyle Hendricks) and a 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) plus setup guys Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell.

Bosio helped set the foundation for the group that won last year's World Series and has made three consecutive trips to the NLCS. But as the Cubs are going to find out this winter, there is a shelf life to everything, even for those who made their mark during a golden age of baseball on the North Side.

Why Cubs' bullpen struggles could damage their chances of rallying in the NLCS

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USA TODAY

Why Cubs' bullpen struggles could damage their chances of rallying in the NLCS

If the Cubs hope to comeback and reach a second straight World Series, they won’t only have to overcome a lackluster offense. The bullpen has been equally unreliable for much of the postseason.

The team’s rotten relief surfaced yet again on Tuesday night when reliever Carl Edwards Jr. issued a bases-loaded walk to counterpart Yu Darvish. It’s one of 23 walks issued by Cubs relievers during the 2017 postseason, the most ever by any team through its first eight playoff games.

Edwards’ sixth-inning, run-scoring walk of Darvish was one of many Cubs miscues in a 6-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. But the moment was squarely in the spotlight as it opened the floodgates, brought out the boo birds and left more questions than answers for the Cubs, who now trail the series 3-0.

“I’m still confident,” Edwards said about his team’s chances. “There’s no need to change it. I wouldn’t sit here and say ‘We’re going to lose.’ … We’re still confident. We’re ready. Like I said, it’s a very fun sport and the tables can turn at any time.”

The Cubs need to flip those tables over pretty quickly if they want to repeat. Fixing an offense that has produced 2.75 runs per game in the playoffs is chief among the Cubs’ concerns.

But even if the Cubs offense puts on a hitting clinic, it’s October and tight games are inevitable. With that in mind they’ll also need more dependability from a group of relievers who has a 6.35 ERA and 23 walks against 24 strikeouts in 28 1/3 playoff innings.

Walks were a constant issue for the Cubs bullpen in the regular season when they averaged 4.25 per nine innings. But that number has increased 7.62 in the playoffs.

The problem surfaced at the wrong time Tuesday as manager Joe Maddon pulled Kyle Hendricks for Edwards with two on and no outs in the sixth and the Cubs trailing 3-1. Edwards sandwiched a pair of outs around a walk to Austin Barnes that loaded the bases. Joc Pederson’s flew out for the second out, which appeared as if it would bring pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson to the plate. But the Dodgers stuck with Darvish and it worked as Edwards threw four straight balls to bring in a run.

Darvish — who only walked once before in 39 career plate appearances — became the first pitcher to walk with the bases loaded in the postseason since Philadelphia’s Larry Christenson in Game 3 of the 1977 NLCS against the Dodgers.

Edwards recovered to strike out Chris Taylor, but walked off the mound to a chorus of boos.

“I thought C.J. was the right man,” Maddon said. “It's just the walk there, the walk, two walks really hurt us. Otherwise, he didn't give anything up.”

[MORE CUBS-DODGERS: Record-setting futility and the 5 biggest things from Cubs-Dodgers Game 3]

It was another lowlight for a ‘pen that has seen John Lackey surrender Justin Turner’s three-run, game-winning homer on Sunday, Wade Davis’ slip up against Michael Taylor in the NLDS and countless other struggles. Mike Montgomery allowed two runs (one earned) late Tuesday to raise his postseason ERA to 23.18.

The team’s performance is in direct contrast with the lights out Dodgers bullpen. Los Angeles relievers have a 1.21 ERA with 23 strikeouts and only two walks in 22 1/3 innings.

The Cubs will have to take on some of their counterparts’ qualities in order to pull off an improbable rally. But Edwards said he and his teammates aren’t shaken.

“They’ve just been very, very good at their jobs,” Edwards said. “It’s not frustrating at all. It’s just making pitches and I didn’t, but it was just today.

“Come back tomorrow and win. There’s more in us to keep striving (for). The thing is, we won’t give up. I don’t care what happens.”

5 depressing stats that highlight Cubs' postseason struggles

5 depressing stats that highlight Cubs' postseason struggles

Let's get something out of the way first:

The Cubs are in the National League Championship Series and only trailing 1-0 after one game in which the team was mentally and physically drained following a lit, emotional NLDS Game 5 and subsequent cross-country journey from the east coast to the west coast which also included an emergency stop in New Mexico. Oh yeah and the Cubs also were forced to face the best pitcher on the planet.

So there's no reason for Cubs fans to run for the hills waving their arms in panic and yelling obscenities. 

Also worth noting: This is a best-of-7 series, so there's not quite as much randomness and there is more time for the Cubs to right the ship and clinch their second straight World Series bid.

But for right now, things are bleak and here are the main reasons why:

Jose Quintana has the second-highest postseason batting average on the Cubs.

Everybody is complaining about the bullpen, and they are due their fair share of frustration from the Cubs' fanbase over the last six games. More on that to come.

But the offense has been horrendous in October. They finished the NLDS with a .180 batting average and somehow went DOWN in Game 1 of the NLCS.

The Cubs are now hitting .172 (31-for-180) as a team with only Albert Almora Jr. (3-for-9) and Quintana (1-for-4) hitting above .222.

Batting average isn't everything, of course, but hits are still the best way to score runs and scoring runs is still necessary to wins.

The Cubs scored 9 runs in NLDS Game 5. They have 10 runs in the four other postseason games combined.

Besides Game 5, the Cubs have averaged 2 runs per game this fall.

Sure, all six of those games have been started by National League Cy Young finalists (Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez), but the Cubs keep reiterating that if they want to be the best, they gotta beat the best. They just aren't beating the best offensively this fall.

It's not like they faced scrubs in the magical 2016 World Series run, either, forced to face Kershaw twice plus Corey Kluber three times in the World Series and Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto on the NLDS.

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have combined for 18 Ks and only 3 BBs.

That's a 6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. 

In the 2017 regular season, the two superstars combined for 218 strikeouts compared to 186 walks. That's a 1.17:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. 

You want to know why the offense has struggled? Its two best hitters have regressed mightily.

But they have found ways to drive in 8 runs and of course, there are still at least three games to climb out of their funk.

Rizzo was off to a rough start to the postseason last year, too, and found his groove again at Dodger Stadium. Matt Szczur isn't around to lend Rizzo his bat again, but can the face of the Cubs find his groove in Hollywood Sunday?

Four Cubs relievers have combined for a 17.06 ERA and 3.16 WHIP.

Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Hector Rondon and John Lackey have combined to surrender 12 earned runs, 20 baserunners and four homers in 6.1 innings. 

Lackey and Rondon just pitched for the first time Saturday, combining to get 6 outs while allowing two hits, a walk, a run and a homer.

It's Edwards and Montgomery that are killing the Cubs out of the bullpen. Two of the most important relievers in Maddon's bullpen have struggled to gain any semblance of rhythm this October and that needs to change immediately if the Cubs have any visions of heading to Houston or New York later this month.

Wade Davis has saved three games and bailed the Cubs out big time in Game 5 Thursday, but he's still allowed seven baserunners (three walks and four hits, including a homer) and two runs in 4.1 innings, so he's been far from a shutdown reliever, too.

Brian Duensing and Pedro Strop have combined to allow only three baserunners in 4.2 innings (two walks and a hit) and just one run. So maybe they see their number called more as this NLCS moves along.

The starting rotation has just a 1-1 record.

Wins are a completely overrated stat, but the Cubs starters have been absolutely incredible this postseason.

Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and Jose Quintana have teamed up for this stat line in their starts: 1.99 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 19 hits, 7 earned runs, 14 walks, 30 strikeouts in 31.2 innings.

That's the kind of line that should elicit far more than a 1-1 record, especially when going up against the high-powered offenses of Washington and Los Angeles.