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."

Cubs expected to hire Mike Napoli — David Ross' former teammate — as quality assurance coach

Cubs expected to hire Mike Napoli — David Ross' former teammate — as quality assurance coach

David Ross will not only be managing former teammates with the Cubs in 2020, but he'll be coaching alongside one, too.

The Cubs are expected to add former MLB catcher Mike Napoli to Ross' coaching staff, per multiple reports. Napoli will assume the title of quality assurance coach, vacated by Chris Denorfia, who held the position for one season.

Napoli played in parts of 12 big-league seasons from 2006-17 with the Angels, Rangers, Red Sox and Indians. He won the 2013 World Series with Boston — alongside Ross and Cubs starter Jon Lester — and was also a key figure with the 2016 Indians, whom the Cubs defeated in the World Series. He finished his career with a .246/.346/.475 slash line with 267 home runs. 

According to MLB Network's Jon Heyman, the Cubs pursued Napoli last winter, though the 38-year-old wanted to take a short break from baseball before jumping into coaching. He'll join a Cubs coaching staff that is almost finalized, with the exception of one vacant base coach spot. Here's what the group looks like right now:

Manager — David Ross
Bench coach — Andy Green
Pitching coach — Tommy Hottovy
Associate pitching coach, catching and strategy coach — Mike Borzello
Hitting coach — Anthony Iapoce
Assistant hitting coach — Terrmel Sledge
Bullpen coach — Chris Young
Base coach — Will Venable
Base coach — open
Quality assurance coach — Mike Napoli

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday the organization hopes to have the coaching staff finalized by the end of the week. With Napoli on board, the Cubs are one step closer to making that goal a reality.

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Fans apologize to Yu Darvish following Astros cheating allegations

Fans apologize to Yu Darvish following Astros cheating allegations

When the Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish at the 2017 trade deadline, he was expected to be one of the final pieces to their championship puzzle.

After a solid nine-start regular season with Los Angeles, Darvish was stellar early in the postseason. In two starts (one in the NLDS, one in the NLCS), he allowed two runs across 11.1 innings, racking up 14 strikeouts compared to a single walk.

Things went downhill for Darvish in the World Series, where he surrendered nine runs in 3.1 innings across two starts. This includes Game 7, when he threw 47 pitches in 1.2 innings, allowing five runs in a 5-1 series-clinching win for the Astros.

Darvish became a scapegoat for the Dodgers' World Series loss and faced heavy backlash from fans. Consequentially, he had concerns about re-signing with the Dodgers when he became a free agent that offseason, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, due to fears of how the city's anger towards him would affect his family.

Two years later, fans are now apologizing for directing their anger at Darvish for his World Series performance. Why?

Tuesday, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich reported the Astros stole opposing teams' signs electronically during the 2017 season. This conflicts with the notion of Darvish tipping his pitches in the World Series, which an anonymous Astros player told Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci was the case.

The notion of Darvish tipping his pitches is now in question altogether:

As has often been the case this offseason, Darvish had a brilliant reaction to the whole situation on Twitter:

Darvish joined the Cubs in 2018 on a six-year deal. After an injury-riddled debut season with the Cubs, he took off post-All-Star break in 2019 and is expected to be the team's Opening Day starter in 2020. Although what happened in 2017 can't be changed, it's nice to see he's moved forward.

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