Cubs bullpen off to a historic start

Cubs bullpen off to a historic start

MILWAUKEE — No Cubs position group was more maligned than the bullpen late last season, but the narrative has changed quickly around the relief corps.

The Cubs bullpen has been a source of steady strength in the first week-plus of action while the team has gotten off to a disappointing 3-4 start.

Entering play Saturday, Cubs relievers led Major League Baseball with a microscopic 0.84 ERA and .491 OPS against in 32.1 innings. The last time a Cubs bullen got off to this good of a start was 1945, when that group posted a 0.72 ERA through their first seven games with an appearance.

Even with a run allowed Saturday, Cubs relievers still own a 1.02 ERA.

Friday was a perfect example of the bullpen's impact, even if they wound up saddled with the loss.

After Kyle Hendricks gave up a pair of two-run homers in the fifth inning to allow the Brewers to tie the game at 4, the Cubs bullpen stepped up to keep the game even to the very end.

Brian Duensing allowed the first two batters in the sixth inning to reach base, but teamed up with Pedro Strop and Justin Wilson to strand the runners at second and third. 

Wilson came on to blow 96 mph fastballs by Travis Shaw and looked very, very good again for three batters before the wheels came off with back-to-back-to-back walks, giving Cubs fans flashbacks of his 2017 season. But Steve Cishek came in to twirl a breaking ball by Lorenzo Cain and another threat was dodged.

"When [Wilson] came in, I was looking to get four outs out of somebody," Joe Maddon said. "And it ended up being him the way it played. Started out great. I mean, right up to [Brewers first baseman Jesus] Aguilar.

"It was great; he was outstanding. I do believe that's going to be in the rearview mirror. I don't think that's gonna be any kind of negative carry over effect. 

"I think he's fine, but he was outstanding and then all of a sudden, he lost the plate a little bit. But the way he came in and got Shaw, the ball was jumping."

Carl Edwards Jr. had a sparkling eighth inning before Mike Montgomery gave up a one-out walk in the ninth inning that came back to haunt the Cubs as the winning run two batters later.

The walks were a major concern for the Cubs bullpen last year and they have doled out 15 free passes in 32.1 innings this season, but they've also permitted essentially nothing else.

Through seven games, here's how the bullpen compared to the starting rotation:

Cubs SPs: 36.2 IP, 20 ER, 62 baserunners, 24 Ks, 4.91 ERA, 1.58 WHIP

Cubs RPs: 32.1 IP, 3 ER, 37 baserunners, 35 K, 0.84 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

"What our bullpen's been able to do, lights out again," Hendricks said after Friday's game. "It's been really fun to watch them lately."

Part of the impact of the bullpen is how much it's been used. Through five games, Cubs relievers actually had recorded more outs (78) than starting pitchers (77) thanks in large part to the 17-inning game in Miami.

It's also impressive that the bullpen has done this all without a contribution from its closer and highest-paid member. 

Brandon Morrow was the big relief addition over the winter, but through the first seven games, he's thrown just two pitches and that was serving up Miguel Rojas' walk-off hit in that 17-inning ballgame in Miami.

It's not for lack of trying. Morrow's been up several times getting warm, but the situation in a game hasn't presented itself yet. The Cubs haven't had a save chance yet and have only three holds as a team through the seven games.

Still, the Cubs want to get Morrow out there one way or another and that could come Saturday against the Brewers.

Cubs Talk Podcast: David Bote’s wild ride and a huge test for Cubs pitchers


Cubs Talk Podcast: David Bote’s wild ride and a huge test for Cubs pitchers

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ series win over the Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field, which capped off with yet another David Bote walk-off and a surprising performance from Tyler Chatwood. They also break down where this Cubs team is at as they get set to welcome the high-powered Dodgers offense into Chicago later in the week.

:30 – The Kelly Effect

1:00 – David Bote’s wild ride

2:00 – El Mago’s magic pays off for Cubs yet again

3:30 – Bote’s adjustments

6:40 – Chatwood’s big day

8:50 – What’s next for Chatwood?

10:10 – Lester’s return is right around the corner

11:30 – Cubs pitching firing on all cylinders

12:00 – Did Kap jinx Strop?

13:30 – Dodgers pose a big challenge for Cubs pitching staff

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Add another chapter to David Bote's incredible story

Add another chapter to David Bote's incredible story

David Bote had to be feeling like the luckiest guy on Earth.

The Cubs were humming along in their quickest game of the season and two outs away from a 1-0 victory on a picture-perfect Easter Sunday at Wrigley Field. That was good news for him, because he had a flight to catch — doctors were inducing his wife, Rachel, and she was going to be giving birth to their third child that night.

Then Bote watched as Arizona's light-hitting outfielder Jarrod Dyson — he of 16 homers in 744 career games coming into the afternoon — sent a Pedro Strop pitch into the right-field bleachers in the top of the ninth inning to extend the game.

So Bote took things into his own hands.

Javy Baez led off the Cubs' half of the ninth with a double down the right field line, advanced to third on an error and then Willson Contreras was plunked by Diamondbacks reliever Archie Bradley.

Up stepped Bote, who watched a curve for Ball 1 and then narrowly got out of the way of a 95 mph fastball ticketed for his left temple. Bradley came back with a curve for a strike and Bote knew what to look for, waiting on another curveball and hammering it through the drawn-in infield for the Cubs' 10th win of the season. 

Minutes later, Bote had bolted out of Wrigley Field, heading back home to Colorado for the birth of Baby No. 3.

Speaking of which, Bote's walk-off hit Sunday came exactly 36 weeks (a little over eight months) after his ultimate grand slam to beat the Washington Nationals...

"It's a grand slam baby and now it's another walk-off for him," teammate Anthony Rizzo joked.

This is just the latest chapter in the incredible story of Bote, an 18th-round draft pick who endured seven seasons in the minor leagues before being called up to the majors. He doesn't even have a full year of service time in "The Show" yet, but he's already proven he belongs and carved out a permanent spot on the roster before signing a 5-year, $15 million extension earlier this month.

"From the homer last year, there was a lot of pressure and he slowed everything down," Baez said. "He just keeps getting better and he knows he's got talent and he can do it. He's got a lot of confidence coming off the bench and he's been huge for this team."

This was Bote's 42nd career RBI and it was already his 4th walk-off RBI. That means nearly 10 percent of his career RBI have come via walk-off situation.

"It's nice. He's had experience early [in those situations]," Rizzo said. "You can't teach that. He's had a lot of situations like that and he's come through. It's fun to watch."

This was only the 10th start of the season for Bote in the Cubs' 20th game, but he's found a way to stay sharp. 

After his 2-hit game Sunday, he's now slashing .295/.380/.455 on the season and showing off the adjustments he's made after hitting just .176 with a .559 OPS after that ultimate grand slam last year.

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