Cubs

How Cubs have dramatically upgraded their bullpen since last year’s Opening Day  

How Cubs have dramatically upgraded their bullpen since last year’s Opening Day  

Bullpens are such an X-factor that it’s no coincidence the Cubs and Indians made it all the way to the World Series by pushing some of the most dominant relievers in the game – Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen.
 
We saw the way bullpens were used last fall, unleashed as early as the fifth inning, with closers getting more than just three outs. And, of course, some of the biggest postseason backlash centered around Orioles manager Buck Showalter not using elite closer Zack Britton in a wild-card loss.
 
Even in saying bullpens are unpredictable by nature, just look at how much better this projected Opening Day bullpen appears to be on paper than the one the Cubs put together a year ago: 
 
2016 

Neil Ramirez
Adam Warren
Trevor Cahill
Clayton Richard
Travis Wood
Justin Grimm
Pedro Strop
Hector Rondon
 
2017

Mike Montgomery
Carl Edwards Jr.
Justin Grimm
Pedro Strop
Hector Rondon
Koji Uehara
Wade Davis

[PODCAST: The evolution of the Cubs bullpen]
 
Davis will have two former closers (Uehara and Rondon) setting up in front of him. There’s a potential future closer (Edwards), a middle-innings closer (Grimm), a guy who could probably close for at least half the teams in the majors (Strop) and a lefty who recorded his first career save in a World Series Game 7 (Montgomery).
 
"When this all shakes out, everybody in that bullpen can be very capable to pitch at almost any time and that's a good thing," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We have all even or ahead guys, meaning they can all pitch well or effectively when the score is even or when you're ahead.
 
"There are a lot of guys that are minus guys that pitch much better when you might be way up or trailing by a little bit and then all of a sudden, you see the best side of them. We have all even or ahead guys throughout the bullpen, which hopefully is going to mean we can spread out their workload."
 
Going off 2016 stats, this group of seven relievers posted a stat line that looks like this: 3.05 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 10.6 K/9 in 341.2 innings.
 
Those marks would've easily given the Cubs the best bullpen in the big leagues, as the 2016 season leaders in each category had a line of: 3.35 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 10.1 K/9.
 
"I've been here for five years and I feel like this is one of the best groups we've ever had right now," Rondon said.
 
Of course, the season is not played on paper and the Cubs will assuredly need to rely on other pitchers outside the season-opening seven.
 
Rondon is a specific point of concern right now after surrendering four runs in his final spring appearance Thursday night, running his official line to 14.73 ERA, eight hits, six earned runs in eight innings. Couple that with seven hits and five earned runs in 1.2 innings in the World Baseball Classic and you can see why Cubs fans are biting their fingernails with their ex-closer.
 
But spring numbers are not everything, of course. Rondon had a 12.38 ERA and 2.37 WHIP in spring last year and wound up with a 1.72 ERA and 0.67 WHIP in the regular season before the All-Star break.
 
The bigger concern here with Rondon is the triceps issue that hampered him in the second half of 2016 and limited his effectiveness in the playoffs, plus his overall medical history. For his part, Rondon has insisted he feels 100 percent this spring and the health issues are in the rearview mirror.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]
 
Even if the struggles persist into the season, the Cubs have enough talent in the bullpen they can afford to let Rondon work through his issues in low-leverage situations.
 
Maddon and team president Theo Epstein have repeatedly mentioned how the Cubs have enough depth in the back end of the bullpen to allow a rotation of sorts in the closer and setup roles, because it's all about getting to October healthy.
 
"This bullpen's got some serious power arms," said veteran left-hander Brian Duensing, who will start the season on the disabled list. "It should be a lot of fun."

Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On the day he was introduced as the next Cubs manager, David Ross made it a point to explain how important it is that his bench coach is "one step ahead" of him as he gets his feet under him.

Theo Epstein echoed that sentiment, saying a bench coach with managerial experience was vital as the Cubs help Ross along as not only a first-year manager, but also a first year coach.

Enter Andy Green.

The 42-year-old Green spent the last four seasons as the San Diego Padres manager, but was fired with one week left in the 2019 season and two years left on his current deal. The Padres wanted a different voice moving into the future after Green compiled a 274-366 record and lost at least 85 games each season, finishing no higher than fourth place in the National League West.

But the Cubs don't want Green to be the manager and they love what he brings to the table as a veteran coach and Ross' right-hand man. 

"Talking to the Padre guys that I know well, he has excellent in-game strategy and always thought ahead very well in-game," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "Very bright, very well prepared. And that's not to mention he's a really good coach. We felt like that was a really good pairing for David. He hasn't managed, so having a guy next to him that, by all accounts, was really good in-game and controls information well, I think that's a really nice pairing."

At his introductory presser, Ross acknowledged his weaknesses as a first-time manager and admitted he will need some time to get the "feel" back of being in the dugout and engaged in each pitch after serving as either a broadcaster or front office executive for the last three years.

As a player, Ross often tried to think and strategize along with his manager, but that's not the same as actually having to make those calls and worry about pitching changes, pinch-hitting, umpire challenges and any other in-game duties a manger is tasked with. It can all add up quickly and managers often have to make the crucial decisions at the snap of a finger.

Ross and Green have not worked together, but the Cubs are hoping they can form a fast friendship and believe Green's ability to prepare is also an asset along with his experience. 

"He's gonna be great at [the bench coach job]," Padres GM A.J. Preller said. "I think it's gonna be a really good thing for somebody that's in that [manager's] chair for the first time having somebody that's gonna be knowledgeable, prepared, detail-oriented and somebody that understands what it's like to sit in that seat. I think all those things are gonna help serve [Green] really well."

Preller and Green reportedly didn't always see eye-to-eye in the big picture view of where the Padres were going, but there's no denying how the San Diego GM feels about his former manager's intellect and the Cubs won't need him to call the shots — only to assist Ross in doing so.

"Andy is probably one of the most intelligent baseball people I've been around," Preller said. "To me, probably as good a person as I've been around as far as Xs and Os and knowing the game. Andy always seemed to be two or three steps ahead. He's very well thought out, very well prepared. It's gonna be a huge strength for him and I think it will be nice for a first-year manager to have somebody like Andy sitting next to him."

A bench coach's exact duties vary from team to team and manager to manager, but with the Cubs, they will lean on Green initially to help Ross along with the experience aspect, making sure the game is not too quick for the first-year manager. During games, Green will be standing right next to Ross, weighing decisions and options along with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy.

But like other bench coaches, Green will also be tasked with helping to serve as a bridge between Ross and the Cubs players. In a lot of ways, Ross is the face of the franchise, as he will partake in somewhere around 500 media sessions throughout the course of the season, including before and after each game. Between that, addressing the team as a group, individual meetings with players and all the strategy and discussions with the R & D department and the front office, Ross will need to lean on Green to be his right-hand man off the field, as well.

It helps that Green just finished managing in the National League, where he knows the opponents and the game is quite different than the American League, which has the benefit of the designated hitter.

"He's a guy that understands all different aspects [of being a coach]," Preller said. "He understands some of the newer information, some of the newer technology. He's gonna understand things that have worked in the past in terms of preparing for games from an advanced information standpoint and then he'll draw upon his experiences being in the National League, knowing the league really well.

"I think he'll be able to give all those things to David Ross and to the Cubs players — somebody who comes in with the mindset of just trying to help the team out and help the team grow. All those things are going to be positives."

We'll see how quickly Ross and Green can jell together, but it's clear the Cubs believe Green can help expediate the process of preparation and in-game strategy for Ross, both now and in-season. 

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan talks with former Cubs front office executive and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti on how to fix a major league roster, when to deal a player who is heading into free agency, and more

01:30 How he moved from MLB to being a scout in the NHL

04:30 How to fix a major league roster

06:40 On building the roster when other teams know your weaknesses

09:30 When to deal a player who is facing free agency

11:30 Balancing trying to win now vs. building a team for a sustained run

14:30 On how a GM can't depend only on signing a big free agent

18:00 On his time with the Cubs in the 1980s

19:45 On how a GM deals with Scott Boras

22:00 On how a GM deals with talk radio and the media

26:00 On how he almost got CC Sabathia on the Dodgers for 2008 playoff run

28:00 On how not trading for Ryan Dempster helped bring Kyle Hendricks to the Cubs

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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