Cubs

Brian Duensing: The unsung hero of Cubs bullpen

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AP

Brian Duensing: The unsung hero of Cubs bullpen

Brian Duensing thought he was being punked.

But there was no Ashton Kutcher or hidden cameras.

The defending champions really were going hard after Duensing on the free agent market over the winter.

"I asked my agent, 'What are we missing? I don't understand,'" Duensing said on this week's CubsTalk Podcast. "He said, 'Hey, when teams want somebody, they go after him.' I said, 'Alright, they must know something that I don't.'"

And they did. 

The Cubs front office was passionate about going out and getting Duensing as a veteran left-handed option in the bullpen.

"I know our scouts in the offseason felt really strongly about him," Joe Maddon said. "Coming into this season, that's all I heard about. Our guys loved Brian Duensing."

Duensing is a diamond in the rough, a guy who entered the winter with a 4.13 and 1.38 WHIP in 662.2 career innings, striking out an average of 5.9 hitters per nine innings.

This season, the 34-year-old has a 2.45 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and has nearly doubled his strikeout rate to 10.2 batters per nine innings.

"A lot of swings and misses — I don't know what that's about, to be honest," Duensing said. "I really don't know what's going on there. Just things are working really well right now and hopefully they continue."

Duensing had a stretch of 16.1 scoreless innings going before giving up a run and taking the loss Wednesday in San Francisco.

It all looks legit, too. Duensing's FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and xFIP (expected FIP) are at 2.99 and 3.34, respectively, meaning the peripheral numbers support his breakout season.

Based on FanGraphs' WAR, Duensing (0.7) is tied with Mike Montgomery and Koji Uehara as the second-best Cubs reliever behind only Wade Davis (0.9). Hector Rondon (0.5 WAR), Pedro Strop (0.5) and Carl Edwards Jr. (0.4) are further down that list.

Duensing admitted feeling a little unsure of himself when he first joined the Cubs, as he didn't want to be the guy not producing on a team vying for its second straight World Series. He battled a back injury and started the year on the disabled list before posting an 8.10 ERA in seven April games.

But since then, his ERA is at 1.54 with only 32 hits in 41 innings.

"When he started out this year, I was getting to know him, he was getting to know us," Maddon said. "He's really quiet on the surface, but an ingratiating, under-the-surface fellow. He's got a great personality.

"I wanna believe the way we do things has permitted him to be himself. And I think because of that, you're seeing the best side of him pitching-wise."

Duensing raved about the Cubs' pitching infrastructure, giving credit to pitching coach Chris Bosio, catching/gameplanning coach Mike Borzello and bullpen coach Lester Strode.

He's also fit in seamlessly with his teammates, who are doing everything they can to help keep Duensing going strong.

Even telling him he stinks.

"He's asked us not to say anything good about him," Davis said. "We keep telling him his stuff is no good and he stinks. He doesn't want to hear none of it, which is good. That's how you should think.

"People don't wanna hear they're doing good. Just to keep him away from it. You always wanna be able to live between both [good and bad] thoughts."

The Cubs bullpen has been under scrutiny lately with some late meltdowns that have helped to hand games away. But with Uehara on the disabled list and Davis and Edwards still searching for consistency, Duensing has been the unsung hero the Cubs bullpen has needed.

Even if nobody's really noticed.

"The other day, I walked out with Addison Russell," Duensing said. "Obviously, everybody's yelling for Addy and then as you walk by, you hear, 'Hey, who was that guy?'

"But it doesn't matter. That's good. If I'm doing my job, then no one knows I'm there, which is the way it should be. As long as I'm not getting recognized that's probably a good thing, so I'll take that.

"But maybe I'll start wearing my jersey out in public or something. I think I'm one of the most generic-looking human beings of all time or something."

Yu Darvish emotional after Cubs lose another tough one: 'I'm so frustrated'

Yu Darvish emotional after Cubs lose another tough one: 'I'm so frustrated'

With their postseason hopes fading by the day and the Cubs needing him most, Yu Darvish delivered on Sunday.

And yet, the game ended in a far-too familiar way for the Cubs: with a 3-2 loss, the Cubs’ fifth-straight one-run defeat — and third since Thursday when they were tied or leading in the ninth inning or later.

“If you just play back the tape, it’s almost unbelievable that it turned out this way,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Also, the games against Cincinnati. For the last six, this is really wash and repeat. Of course it’s frustrating."

Darvish was extremely emotional postgame, as evidenced by a mud stain spread across his locker resulting from an anger-laced throw of his cleat. He pitched well — 8 1/3 innings, three earned runs, 12 strikeouts and no walks — only running into trouble in the ninth.

“I’m so frustrated, you can see it, right?” he said, looking back at his locker. “We have to win, especially today, but we lost.”

The 33-year-old right-hander was rolling heading into the ninth, which started off with pinch-hit triple by Jose Martinez that hit off Albert Almora Jr.’s glove, despite a valiant diving effort.

“It sucks that we couldn’t win that game,” Almora said. “I really wanted to make that play there. Can’t catch them all, but I tried.”

For what it’s worth, Craig Kimbrel didn’t pitch Sunday because he was unavailable, though Maddon said he would’ve stuck with Darvish even if his closer was available.

"I was happy at that point, but right now everything just….There’s no words right now," Darvish said.

That’s neither here nor there, though. What matters is that the Cubs lost another game that they seemed to have in their grasp, only to see it slip away late. They're now eliminated from NL Central contention, and their elimination number in the Wild Card race is three.

Even Maddon struggled to explain the series, one where the Cubs played quite well but only saw their playoff hopes take a big hit.

“It’s really difficult,” he said. “You look at it, how did that all happen? How did we lose all those four games? They were just one runner better than us every night and they were really evenly matched. That’s all I will concede.”

Although Darvish admitted he feels responsible for Sunday’s loss, Maddon spoke highly of the right-hander, even comparing how he's pitched to what Jake Arrieta did during his tenure with the Cubs. 

“I saw Jake pitch really well and win a Cy Young, but this is equivalent of all of that,” he said. “The stuff, command of his stuff. [Darvish] absolutely deserved a better fate.”

Whether you think that Maddon was being too hyperbolic there or not, there’s no doubting that Darvish looked excellent for majority of his outing on Sunday. Baseball is a game of inches, something the Cubs experienced firsthand this weekend.

“They got us. They got us,” Maddon said. “Give them credit for that, but we did not leave anything on the field, man.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Swept by the Cardinals (and playoff dreams dashed)

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: Swept by the Cardinals (and playoff dreams dashed)

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki and Kelly Crull discuss the Cardinals sweep, Yu Darvish taking the loss so hard, and what to look for over the final six games of the year.

01:00 - Reaction to being swept by the Cards

03:30 - Darvish taking the loss really hard

05:30 - This is the Yu Darvish Cubs fans thought they were getting when he signed with the Cubs

07:00 - Almora's miscue in the 9th inning of the loss

08:00 - It feels like the end of an era

12:00 - Is this the end of an era for the Cubs?

16:00 - Surprised Rizzo was available on the field for the entire Cardinals series?

20:00 - There is no one thing you can look to that didn't work this season

22:00 - What do you want to see over the final six games?

25:00 - Seeing a cornerstone being helped off the field for a second Sunday in a row

29:00 - How much will we see the injured guys on the field?

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Cubs Talk Podcast

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