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Jesse Chavez won't be riding in like a white knight to save the Cubs bullpen in 2019. 

But maybe the Cubs won't need it this year. Maybe they'll somehow avoid the dreaded wall the bullpen has run into the last two seasons.

Carl Edwards Jr. could play a huge role in that.

The 27-year-old right-hander has the best pure stuff of any pitcher in the Cubs bullpen and has been described as a future closer by just about everybody in the organization. He's also one of the hardest pitchers in baseball to square up — among those who permitted at least 100 batted balls in 2018, only 11 pitchers allowed a lower exit velocity than Edwards, who sported an average exit velocity against of just 84.3 mph. (For perspective, Edwin Diaz was arguably the best reliever in baseball in 2018 and he ranked 180th with an exit velo of 87.5 mph.)

The only issue is...Edwards has a bad history of fading at the most important time of the year.

For the first four months of the year, Edwards is one of the top relievers in the game. But from August on, he's run into some trouble:

March-July (2016-18)

94 G
92.1 IP
2.44 ERA
0.99 WHIP
4.39 BB/9
13.26 K/9
0.68 HR/9
4.48 H/9

Aug-Nov (2016-18, including playoffs)

88 G
73 IP
4.32 ERA
1.23 WHIP
6.04 BB/9
10.97 K/9
0.74 HR/9
5.05 H/9

As you can see, there's not a major drop off in terms of hits or homers allowed, which means the control is the biggest issue coupled with a preciptous dip in whiffs. 

 

That's a bad combination for any pitcher at any time let alone the most crucial point in the year.

And it's not like Edwards is just any old pitcher in the Cubs bullpen. For the first four months of the season, he's the team's top setup guy, most often utilized against the other team's heart of the order by manager Joe Maddon.

Sure, Pedro Strop and Brandon Morrow going down to injury was key this past season, but if Edwards had been able to maintain his early-season production, the Cubs would've been able to navigate things quite a bit easier in the final month. Things got so bad for Edwards, he wasn't even active for the National League Wild-Card game with what was characterized as a forearm issue.

So what's behind the late-season struggles?

Is it simply a matter of Edwards — who notably has a very slight build (listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds) — wearing down physically? Is it a mental block when the pressure mounts? Is it mechanical or approach-oriented?

The answer is probably a combination of all of that, but Edwards certainly struggled with the mental component in 2018, with bad moments too often snowballing — he walked nearly 1/3 of the batters he faced in September (12 of 38).

"He's focused on his entire game," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said earlier this month. "Physically, he needs to be in great shape to be as durable as he could possibly be and get through a whole season pitching in a role that if it's not gonna be a protected role, then he needs to be really strong physically to get throught the whole year. That's what he wants to get to. Mechanically, there's a few tweaks and check points he needs to remember.

"And then on the mental side, it's an area where he can work to improve — locking in his mental game so he can try to eliminate those outings where he really just misses the strike zone from the beginning and then can't self-correct. So developing a little bit more consistency with his mental game should help his consistency on the mound.

"He's one of the most talented relievers in the game, so there's significant upside by developing even incrementally more consistency."

Edwards is entering his first year of abritration and is slated to make about $1.4 million for 2019. Given the Cubs' financial concerns and the desire to retool the bullpen this offseason, that salary is an absolute bargain when weighed against Edwards' potential impact.

All things considered, Edwards will enter 2019 as one of the most important players on the Cubs roster.

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