WASHINGTON — Just over three weeks remain in the 2018 regular season and the Cubs are still waiting for Carl Edwards Jr. to completely turn the corner.
Granted, he's been close.
Edwards looked to be finding his form as August came to a close, but then he hit another speed bump, struggling against the Brewers (Monday) and Nationals (Thursday and Saturday) in back-to-back-to-back appearances as he walked four guys and gave up three hits while recording just four outs.
His final line could've been much worse Saturday in D.C. if not for the generous call from home plate umpire Jansen Visconti, ringing up Nationals catcher Spencer Kieboom on a full count pitch that came in below the strike zone.
Will that break help jumpstart Edwards at the most important time of the season?
The Cubs certainly hope so.
Edwards has allowed the leadoff hitter to reach safely in each of those three appearances, giving up a hit Monday in Milwaukee and then walking the first batter he faced both Thursday and Saturday night at Nationals Park.
Joe Maddon called on Edwards to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning Thursday in a 4-4 ballgame and after walking Bryce Harper and getting a fly out, the Cubs setup man gave up a double to NL Rookie of the Year candidate Juan Soto.
Only a great play by Ben Zobrist in right field kept Harper from scoring, but by that point, Maddon had already seen enough, opting for Justin Wilson over letting Edwards get out of his own jam.
"I didn't know where Carl was at at that point after the double in the corner," Maddon said. "We [let him try to get out of his own jam] the other day — I let it fly a little bit. Try to build up his confidence, but today to win that game, you like Wilson's stuff vs. [Mark] Reynolds and you want [Wilmer] Difo hitting right-handed."
The move worked, obviously, as Wilson struck out Reynolds and got Difo to fly out to left.
But it was the second time in a week Edwards couldn't finish the inning he started, which is disconcerting at this time of the season — especially with Brandon Morrow's status still very much in question.
Maddon wasn't piling on Edwards after Thursday's game, but he also assessed the situation honestly — "We need to get Carl through that inning."
Edwards' season ERA is still very good and would represent a career best if the season ended today (2.33). But his 1.23 WHIP is abnormally high and strikeout rate (11.8 K/9) slightly below the 12.8 K/9 mark he posted in 109 games from 2016-17.
Maddon gave Edwards a longer leash Monday in Milwaukee in hopes of trying to let the 27-year-old get through tough moments but can't afford to do that every time out, as Thursday proved.
Even after Edwards walked Ryan Braun on a borderline pitch in Milwaukee, he still could've buckled down and got the next hitter and left with the lead intact.
Instead, he walked pinch-hitter Mike Moustakas on four pitches, surrendering the tying run in a game the Cubs eventually lost.
"Getting through this month, having him feeling as good as he possibly can matters," Maddon said. "It matters to us. It didn't work [Monday night], but it will. He's pretty good at flushing it; he's pretty good at moving on to the next moment.
"We've just been trying to have him make that adjustment in the moment rather than not having to wait until it's over, sit down, think about it and come back out the next time and make the adjustment. He's gotta be able to do it in the moment.
"...He's gonna get better. I know he's like 27, so he's not young-young anymore, but this guy still has a chance to be — he is still one of the best relievers in the National League. He has closer ability and that may eventually surface."
The Cubs could really use that "closer ability" this fall since they don't know what they can get out of Morrow, if anything.
Even if he never pitches in the ninth inning, Edwards will be a huge part of this Cubs bullpen in late September and October, so it's imperative they get him right as soon as possible.
A couple weeks ago, Maddon said he thought Edwards was pitching too tentatively, worried about trying not to walk guys instead of attacking hitters.
The Cubs manager doesn't see that same issue anymore but believes for Edwards to turn the corner, he needs to do two things — get his breaking ball over for strikes more often and work through tough moments better mentally.
"He's like one moment away from really turning it around for himself internally," Maddon said after Edwards' tough outing against the Nationals Thursday night.
Maddon also believes too much rest can be a bad thing for Edwards because it might be tougher to maintain his "feel" on the mound.
"We're working on different things with him," Maddon said. "He's so good; he's so talented. And he primarily has good outings. He doesn't have many bad ones. He's so vital to our success now and in the future."