As bullpen settles in, Cubs feeling comfortable in one-run games


As bullpen settles in, Cubs feeling comfortable in one-run games

By Sarah Langs

If it seems like the Cubs have won a lot of close games lately, that feeling isn’t just an illusion.

Entering Friday, the Cubs have the most wins in one-run games of any team in baseball, sporting a 10-6 record. The Seattle Mariners are the only other team that’s played in 16 one-run games, and they’re sitting at 8-8 in those.

Manager Joe Maddon pointed to the Cubs' relief corps as a major reason why the team has found success in close games.

“One-run games, a lot of that has to do with your bullpen,” Maddon said. “The fact that you can somehow gather the lead and then they can hold on, by their fingernails sometimes -- and they did [Thursday over the Mets]. A good bullpen permits that to happen as much as anything.”

Cubs relievers are ninth in the National League with a 4.14 ERA, and the 'pen’s batting average against is .247, which puts them at seventh in the NL. They may not lead the league in any statistical category, but Cubs relievers have managed to keep the team competitive in these tight games.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon attributed a lot of this to stretching the relievers out, with a keen eye towards avoiding overuse.

“Yesterday, I really wanted to stay away from [Zac] Rosscup, even though he only pitched to one hitter the day before. So yesterday was [James] Russell, and Rosscup didn’t even move his arm,” Maddon said Friday. “[Pedro] Strop had almost three days off...then he goes out and gets four outs on about 12 pitches. That’s outstanding.”

Maddon also mentioned that the team is monitoring closer Hector Rondon’s workload, since he’s been appearing more.

Six of the 10 wins in one-run games have come during May, and five of those have happened after May 5.

That's when the bullpen got a shot in the arm as the Cubs called up left-hander Russell from Triple-A Iowa. The Cubs got a further boost a day later when hard-throwing righty Justin Grimm returned from the disabled list.

The two have combined to allow just 1 earned run over 9.1 innings since their respective call-up and activation.

“Grimm has really added to the mix,” Maddon said. “Grimm and Russell have really helped give definition to the group in regards to comfortably bringing different guys in to different moments and feeling like he can get things done in a positive way. It’s starting to form up.”

[MORE CUBS: Carrying three catchers comes in handy]

Since May 6, the bullpen has posted only one loss -- last Sunday’s 3-2 loss in Milwaukee. Ten of the 16 one-run games the Cubs have played have come against divisional opponents and the Cubs are 5-5 in those contests.

If the bullpen continues to pitch at this pace, the Cubs will be able to stay competitive.

Entering Friday, the St. Louis Cardinals’ bullpen sports the best ERA in the NL at 1.71. The Cardinals’ 'pen has also posted the most wins (10) and has the third-best batting average against at .219. St. Louis relievers have also thrown the third-most innings, though, with 110.1. 

The 104.1 innings from Cubs relievers is tied for seventh in the NL, with just four teams’ bullpens having thrown fewer innings. The bullpen numbers are pretty bunched up: two teams are tied ahead of the Cubs with 108.2 IP, and the Cubs are in a four-way tie with the Brewers, Braves and Dodgers. Starting pitchers going deep into games will help the bullpen stay fresh throughout the season.

Last year, the Cubs went 19-21 in one-run games.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998


Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.

Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis


Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis

Yu Darvish now has more trips to the disabled list in a Cubs uniform than wins.

The Cubs place their 31-year-old right-handed pitcher on the DL Saturday evening with right triceps tendinitis. The move is retroactive to May 23, so he may only have to miss one turn through the rotation.

In a corresponding move, Randy Rosario was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to provide Joe Maddon with another arm in the bullpen. Tyler Chatwood will start Sunday in Darvish's place.

Thanks to two off-days on the schedule last week, the Cubs should be fine with their rotation for a little while. Jon Lester could go on regular rest Monday, but the Cubs would need to make a decision for Tuesday given Kyle Hendricks just threw Friday afternoon.

That decision could mean Mike Montgomery moving from the bullpen to the rotation for a spot start, or it could be the promotion of top prospect Adbert Alzolay from Triple-A Iowa.

Either way, this is more bad news for Darvish, who has had a rough go of it since he signed a six-year, $126 million deal with the Cubs in February.

Between issues with the weather, the concern of arm cramps in his debut in Miami, leg cramps in Atlanta, a trip to the disabled list for the flu, trouble making it out of the fifth inning and now triceps tendinitis, it's been a forgettable two months for Darvish.

He is 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 40 innings with the Cubs.

Over the course of 139 career starts, Darvish is 57-45 with a 3.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings.