Cubs

Craig Kimbrel addition sends clear message to Cubs: 'It's a real shot in the arm'

Craig Kimbrel addition sends clear message to Cubs: 'It's a real shot in the arm'

The Cubs bullpen got the message loud and clear when Kyle Schwarber came out to left field Wednesday night and mimicked Craig Kimbrel's pre-pitch wing in the top of the third inning.

But the entire Cubs roster got the message loud and clear from the front office and ownership that there is good reason to believe in this team as a championship contender.

As the Kimbrel news broke during the Cubs' victory Wednesday night, the good vibes carried into Thursday — the home clubhouse at Wrigley was buzzing with excitement Thursday morning before the 3-1 loss to the Rockies — and that very well could continue for a while. 

Weeks before Kimbrel is even ready to throw a pitch for this club, he'll have an impact on a team that just took over sole possession of first place Wednesday night. 

"It means a lot [when management makes moves like this]," catcher Willson Contreras said. "We have more confidence, more security."

Kimbrel's addition already has guys dreaming about what this team will look like at full strength.

"We have a dominant force now," veteran reliever Brandon Kintzler said. "It's basically a race — almost like the Brewers, where you have to score before you get to [Josh] Hader. For us, just keep the lead to get to him.

"We went from really short bullpen with [Pedro Strop] out to all of a sudden, Stroppy comes back and now you're really long. It's a real shot in the arm. Putting Stroppy in the eighth [inning], now you can do a whole bunch of stuff in the sixth and seventh and now all of us don't have to throw every day. It's great."

Think back to that Jose Quintana trade in early July 2017 and how that gave the Cubs some extra juice in the clubhouse and served as a clear message from Theo Epstein's front office to the roster: We believe in you.

This is the same thing, but potentially with an even bigger impact. The 2017 Cubs were coming off the World Series run and they admittedly had a "hangover" in the first half of that season. 

The 2019 Cubs are coming off a very disappointing end to the 2018 season and spent the winter and spring talking about urgency and the importance of showing up every single day with a killer instinct. The first two months of the season haven't exactly been a smooth ride, but the Cubs have shown they have all the makings of a team that can compete for the World Series. And this week, they've added another veteran bat (Carlos Gonzalez) and arguably the top closer in the game right now (Kimbrel) to help bolster the team that fought through the tough moments in the season's first couple months.

"Bringing Cargo over here was awesome too — look at what he's done for our lineup so far in four games," said veteran reliever Steve Cishek, who picked up his 6th save of the season Wednesday night. "Now the bullpen is lengthened out [with Kimbrel] and we can [play to] matchups more now. It's a good recipe for success."

An hour or so before the Kimbrel news broke, Epstein spoke with Chicago media and talked about how this roster has earned the trust of the front office — between rising above the early-season adversity, the way so many hitters have turned things around and shown the second half last year was an aberration and also how strong the starting rotation has been.

The bullpen was the biggest area of weakness on this team coming into the season and it remained that way as June began. Kimbrel was the best relief arm on the market and now the Cubs feel like they've locked down the ninth inning for the entire second half of the season and beyond.

"It's awesome," Cishek said. "When I first signed here, I saw that was going to be the case anyways. You saw the trade deadline last year when we got some good acquisitions. We're built to win. I think we were built to win to start the season, now we're just continuing to improve, try to help us out.

"They believed in us at the start of the season. They wanted to keep the same guys in here — which, to us, meant a lot. They didn't deconstruct the lineup or pitching staff. They said they believe in us, let's roll. So that meant a lot. And then adding a piece like [Kimbrel] definitely ensures we're built to win. It's really exciting."

Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have added to this team every year since they were surprise contenders in 2015. But with Kimbrel this summer, it's different.

Yes, the Aroldis Chapman deal in 2016 was big for that team, but the Cubs already had a sizable lead in the division by that point and everybody knew they were ticketed for the playoffs. They didn't need confidence or reassurance. The Chapman move was as much about October as anything else.

Last summer, the Cubs went out and acquired Cole Hamels at the trade deadline and then brought in veteran bat Daniel Murphy on a waiver deal in August. But both of those moves were as much about necessity as anything else — acquiring veterans on expiring deals to fill clear holes in the rotation and lineup (particularly with Yu Darvish and Kris Bryant injured). 

With Kimbrel, the Cubs could've continued to skate by with their current bullpen, especially as Strop just returned Tuesday from a month-long absence due to a hamstring injury.

But the front office and team ownership believed in this team enough to go out and make the most impactful addition possible.

"It's just who our guys are," Joe Maddon said. "They've always done that wherever they've been. Being part of this organization now where you have the ability, the wherewithal to do things like this, obviously it's pretty good. Many places, you're gonna just have to suffer through moments and just make the best of what you've got whereas Theo, Jed, Mr. Ricketts, etc. they've done a wonderful job of being able to piece things together while the thing's in progress and able to fill holes. 

"It's a different method not everybody can employ, but yes, we're very fortunate to have those guys out there doing that for us."

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

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AP

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss Yu Darvish's 1st win at Wrigley, Cole Hamel's status, and Kris Bryant playing better than he did in his MVP season.

01:00     Darvish picking up 1st win at Wrigley

03:30     Cole Hamels injury update

05:00     Starting rotation after the All-Star break

06:00     Cubs defense looking sharp

07:30     How the Cubs will approach the weekend and the expected heat

09:30     Kris Bryant playing above his MVP level

12:00     How the NL Central stacks up

14:00     Upcoming road trip to San Francisco, Milwaukee and Saint Louis

16:00     Addition to Martin Maldonado

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

Cubs Talk Podcast

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