Theo Epstein and the Cubs front office are always trying to evaluate the franchise's major weaknesses, looking for potential leaks that could sink the ship.
It's only Aug. 2, but one such issue flew to the forefront Thursday evening.
After trade deadline pickup Jesse Chavez gave up a 3-run homer (the first runs he's allowed as a Cub), the game was still in shouting distance for the Cubs. But a pair of lefties — Justin Wilson and Brian Duensing — combined to allow 3 runs in the final three frames to break the game wide open for the Padres.
Wilson walked a batter and gave up a pair of hits in one inning of work. Duensing also walked a batter and gave up 4 hits over 2 innings.
Right now, the two are the only left-handed options out of the Cubs bullpen and they've each endured their various level of struggles this season.
As the Cubs get down to the most pivotal part of the regular season and hope to roll it into the playoffs, can they get by with the pair of question marks in the bullpen?
"Justin's been good," Joe Maddon said after the Cubs' 6-1 loss. "We've been having to get Duensing straightened out for a bit, but I do like [Carl] Edwards against lefties and I like [Brandon] Kintzler against lefties.
"But I did not want to use them in those situations tonight. I think Justin's been fine."
Wilson has certainly pitched better than he did in his two-month debut with the club last fall. But he still has 30 walks in 42.2 innings and carries a worrisome 1.43 WHIP despite a solid 3.38 ERA. He ran into major control issues last year and was a non-factor for the Cubs in the postseason because of it.
Duensing has struggled for months and now sports a 7.34 ERA and 1.83 WHIP on the season with more walks (26) than strikeouts (22).
If the Cubs have to face Bryce Harper or Freddie Freeman or Cody Bellinger in the playoffs or need some big outs against Travis Shaw and Christian Yelich in September, Wilson and Duensing may not inspire a whole lot of confidence in the fanbase watching on the edge of their respective seats.
Rookie lefty Randy Rosario was just sent down to Triple-A Iowa earlier in the week to clear room for Brandon Kintzler on the big-league roster and while his stats were good (4-0, 1.97 ERA), the underlying numbers indicate he was due for a pretty serious regression — 1.34 WHIP, 5.10 FIP, almost as many walks (16) as strikeouts (19) in 32 innings.
Rosario will undoubtedly be back up in Chicago soon and could be a factor out of the Cubs bullpen come playoff time. But that's a lot to throw on the shoulders of a 24-year-old with only 28 MLB games under his belt.
The answers, ironically, may come in the form of the two left-handers who pitched before Wilson and Duensing Thursday.
Drew Smyly threw a simulated game at Wrigley Field before the Cubs and Padres faced off and could be set to go on a rehab assignment in the very near future.
Mike Montgomery started for the Cubs and got 16 outs, continuing his trend of solid work in the rotation over the last couple months. But the Cubs also want to be cautious of Montgomery's innings and don't want to run the tall southpaw into the ground before what they hope is another run into late October.
At some point in the regular season, they may opt to move Montgomery back into the bullpen to limit those innings. And even if they don't, it's possible the Cubs opt to flip Montgomery back to the swingman role in the bullpen for the postseason, choosing to fill out the potential playoff rotation with the likes of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels.
Smyly and Yu Darvish are the wild cards here.
The Cubs aren't counting on anything from Darvish the rest of this season, but almost two months remain until the first playoff game. If he can actually kick this arm injury, he figures to have a spot in the rotation locked up and Montgomery is the natural choice to move back to the bullpen given he has plenty of recent experience in that role.
Smyly is recovering from Tommy John surgery and hasn't thrown a pitch in a big-league game since 2016, but he could fill a variety of roles for the Cubs down the stretch — a left-handed reliever capable of going multiple innings, a starting pitcher or something else entirely.
It's impossible to just assume a guy will find his form and command in less than a month of actual game action on a rehab assignment before the minor league seasons wrap up.
But Smyly and the Cubs were encouraged after his 30-pitch sim game Thursday.
"Good. I thought he finished strongly," Maddon said. "He agreed with that. His fastball started to jump that second 15 pitches. Little bit of command issues with his curve and his changeup. Not sharp, but only threw three in each set.
"But fastball got better and it finished really strong and he felt good about himself. ... Smyly left smiling."
The Cubs clearly believe in Smyly enough to give him a 2-year, $10 million contract last winter despite a guarantee he would miss at least the first four months of the 2018 season.
The 29-year-old lefty pitched for Maddon briefly for the Tampa Bay Rays at the tail end of the 2014 season. He has also worked with first-year Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey the last three-and-a-half seasons between Tampa Bay and Chicago.
Epstein said on the last homestand the Cubs plan to stretch Smyly out whenever he's able to get down to the minors and start a rehab assignment. So that leaves open the possibility that he can serve as some rotation depth.
But the most likely scenario is Smyly contributing in some form out of the Cubs' bullpen. It's been a few years, but he has a solid track record as a reliever — 7-0, 2.47 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9.7 K/9 in 71 appearances out of the bullpen.
When it comes time for a big at-bat by a dangerous left-handed hitter in September or October, it may be Smyly that Maddon turns to out of the bullpen, not Wilson or Duensing.