It’s taken all of one week for Andrew Chafin to become a cult hero.
One look at the mussed hair, 1970s mustache and ponch belies the dominance of Chafin, the best lefty reliever in the league in the early going.
Not the best, you say? You’d be hard pressed to find someone else who has struck out eight of the first 14 batters he’s faced this season, and eight against the last 10 batters.
Four of Chafin’s punchouts came in a single outing, when he set down Kolten Wong, Keston Hiura and Christian Yelich in order in Monday’s win over the Brewers.
“The look in his eye when he takes the ball from me on the mound, the way he comes off the mound staring at me like he wants to fight me makes me smile,” Cubs manager David Ross said of Chafin.
Chafin has stood out in a Cubs bullpen that, after entering the season as a question mark, has looked promising through one week. In 26 2/3 innings, they hold a 2.70 ERA and 39 strikeouts (sixth and first in baseball, as of Friday).
That’s a far cry from what they got from their relievers early last season. The Cubs had the worst ERA in baseball through seven games (9.55 ERA), with 20 walks (third most) in 21 2/3 innings.
Consider not only the bullpen's start to the season, but those who have played key roles.
Chafin, a trade deadline acquisition last season, wasn’t re-signed until February.
Ryan Tepera, second on the Cubs in appearances in 2020 and the recipient of an accidental MVP vote, wasn’t re-signed until March. The right-hander hasn’t allowed a run in three appearances.
Alec Mills, the starter who threw a no-hitter in 2020 but was shifted to a swingman role this season, picked up his second career save Monday in a 1-2-3 ninth inning. He’s allowed one hit (a home run) in three appearances.
Rex Brothers, a non-roster invitee this spring who made the roster, has always had a good arm but struggled with command. He's walked one batter in three outings while striking out four — three on Thursday.
Even Craig Kimbrel, the most decorated member of the group, was a question mark. After an up-and-down start to his Cubs tenure, he turned a corner last September and has carried that performance over this year.
In 4 2/3 innings, the closer hasn’t allowed a hit or walk, striking out nine. He picked up his first career regular season five-out save on Thursday, which also happened to be No. 350 of his career.
It’s early, but the Cubs bullpen is clicking already.
“It's nice to see them come in and get the big outs, make good pitches in big moments,” Ross said.
And it definitely helps having Kimbrel pitching well.
“It's nice to have that guy on the back end to anchor that group, that's for sure,” Ross added.