Cubs

Joe Maddon has built a Cubs bullpen that plays in October

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Joe Maddon has built a Cubs bullpen that plays in October

The only real sense of panic in the Cubs' bullpen these days comes when the phone rings and they can't hear what name is being called on.

Apparently there's some issues deciphering between "Rodney" (Fernando Rodney) and "Ronnie" (Hector Rondon).

That's about as high stress as it gets down in a bullpen that can be seen joking around with fans or stomping around and clapping when Starlin Castro's walk-up song comes on.

"I think a lot of it is just, there's no pressure on anybody because there's so much depth," said Trevor Cahill, who got the win in the NLDS-clinching Game 4 after pitching the sixth inning. "There's not really roles in the bullpen.

"[The fourth inning] is just as important as the eighth or ninth. [Manager Joe Maddon] realizes that and he knows the game is decided every inning, not just the eighth or ninth."

[MORE - Twitter reacts to Cubs' NLDS win over Cardinals]

Cahill talked a lot about Justin Grimm's performance in the fourth inning, crediting the Cubs "mid-innings closer" (as Maddon tabbed Grimm earlier in the season) with saving the game for the team. Grimm entered after a leadoff walk by Jason Hammel and the first batter immediately reached on an error by third baseman Kris Bryant.

But Grimm buckled down and struck out the next three batters in succession, pumping his fist and setting the tone for the bullpen.

Maddon emptied out his entire bullpen, utilizing seven relievers to shut down the Cardinals for six innings. They allowed two runs on five hits and a walk, striking out 13 batters.

"The bullpen was fabulous," Maddon said. "Grimmer really set the tone. ... From the beginning to the end, the bullpen was fabulous."

In the four-game series with the Cardinals, the Cubs relief corps boasted a 3.14 ERA, racking up 21 strikeouts to only one walk in 14.1 innings while picking up two wins, eight holds and a pair of saves.

[RELATED - Cubs finish Cardinals with Javier Baez starring in Addison Russell's absence]

How have they been able to find such success?

Well, one of Maddon's favorite phrases - "Do simple better" - has come into play.

"We try to be simple," Rondon said. "When we come into the game, we try to make a pitch. We don't try to do too much.

"I know the adrenaline gets ramped up, but we still have to make those pitches. We did a really good job today."

Maddon has spent all year building this "egoless" bullpen, not assigning any true roles to anybody and even moving Rondon (who finished the regular season with a 1.67 ERA and 30 saves) out of the unofficial closer's role at one point early in the season.

"We never know [when we are gonna go in] and I think that helps us," Cahill said. "Nobody's too relaxed. We're always good to go. We're always loose and stretched out.

"Guys say they like the routine or roles or whatever, but other than Ronnie, we just go out there and we're ready to go whenever the phone rings."

Maddon has been putting his guys in situations all year to prepare them for the playoffs, cranking the intensity up in moments like the series against the San Francisco Giants Aug. 9 when Rondon loaded the bases with nobody out and struck out the next three hitters to close out a four-game sweep.

"We absolutely learned from [situations like that]," Rondon said. "That helped us to be better and to learn to control ourselves."

[NBC SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

The crazy thing about the Cubs bullpen is how it was constructed. Only Grimm, Pedro Strop and Rondon began the season in the bullpen.

Travis Wood started the year in the rotation while the other three - Clayton Richard, Rodney and Cahill - were all designated for assignment by other MLB teams.

The Cubs picked them up off the scrap heap and formed a bullpen that plays in October.

"It does say a lot, the fact that you sometimes have to look underneath some stones, turn them over and see what's underneath there," Maddon said. "You have to research a little bit more deeply and find out."

After all, who thought two months ago that Cahill would be getting the win and Richard and Rodney would garner holds in the game that clinched the NLDS for the Cubs?

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

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NBC Sports Chicago

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

Ozzie Guillen explains why he thinks Manny Machado is a better fit for the Cubs than the White Sox. Plus, Guillen and Marlon Byrd react to 19-year-old Juan Soto hitting a homer in his first at-bat with the Nationals.

Later in the show the guys debate who had the better rants in front of the media: Guillen or Byrd?

Finally, Byrd opens up about his PED suspensions, relates to the guys caught using PEDs now and Guillen offers up a solution to rid baseball of PEDs entirely.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: