The state of the Cubs bullpen looks bleaker and bleaker by the day.
We've known since December that the Cubs would begin the season without Brandon Morrow, as their closer is still recovering from an elbow debridement procedure after missing half of 2018 with a forearm bone bruise.
Things have taken another turn to the negative this week, as Pedro Strop suffered a hamstring injury that has cast some doubt over his Opening Day status.
It was also recently reported veteran lefty Xavier Cedeno — who signed with the Cubs in the first couple days of spring camp — will miss Opening Day with a left wrist injury that has kept him from pitching in Cactus League games.
On Friday, one more arm was added to the list of injuries, as Tony Barnette — another offseason signing — is dealing with a shoulder issue and probably won't be ready for Opening Day in Texas:
No great surprise, but Maddon envisions a lineup with Bryant, Rizzo, Baez 2-3-4. Also, reliever Tony Barnette (shoulder) longshot to be ready by opening day— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) March 15, 2019
That was accompanied with some good news about Strop:
Some updates from Cubs PC Tommy Hottovy...
• Jon Lester's next outing will be sim game Monday
• Strop playing catch, feeling good, mound day TBD
• Alec Mills (right shoulder) threw off mound today
• Confirmed Morrow's bullpen is skedded for Monday— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 15, 2019
Still, it doesn't exactly paint a rosy picture of the Cubs bullpen heading into the first series of 2019.
As of right now, the Cubs Opening Day group of relievers might look like this:
Carl Edwards Jr.
And if Strop can't go, the Cubs would fill the final spot in their bullpen by selecting one of the following: Dillon Maples, Allen Webster, Junichi Tazawa, Kyle Ryan, Randy Rosario. (On Saturday, the Cubs assigned George Kontos, Dakota Mekkes, Matt Carasiti and Mike Zagurski to minor league camp. James Norwood and Rowan Wick were sent to Triple-A Iowa.)
Alec Mills could be an option, but as MLB.com's Jordan Bastian noted in his Tweet above, the right-hander is also dealing with a shoulder issue.
Montgomery's spring got off to a delayed start when he dealt with some shoulder tightness before Cactus League games began and he's only managed to appear in one game so far.
Brach has also had a suboptimal spring, with only 3 appearances after a bout of mono affected him early in camp. He's also dealt with velocity issues, topping out a good 5-10 mph below his in-season average, though the veteran insists that's normal for him in spring.
The aforementioned bullpen group also includes a trio of veterans — Kintzler, Duensing, Chatwood — who are coming off rough 2018 seasons. Meanwhile, both Edwards and Cishek faded down the stretch last fall after looking dominant for most of the first five months of the season.
So it's understandable why Cubs fans might be freaking out about the bullpen and it's certainly easy to empathize with anybody who wants Theo Epstein's front office to go out and add an elite reliever like Craig Kimbrel, who's somehow still available on the free agent market.
If Strop isn't ready for Opening Day, he may be only a few days behind and the Cubs are also afforded a pair of early off-days in the season which could help add time for Strop to heal and also provide guaranteed rest for the top healthy arms.
The situation isn't exactly dire, either, in terms of the group of relievers available to fill that final spot.
Tazawa and Kontos have three World Series rings and 752.1 MLB innings between the two of them.
Ryan also has some big-league experience, Rosario made 44 appearances in Chicago last year and Norwood got his first taste of "The Show" in 2018. Maples and Mekkes have been popular names in the Cubs minor-league system in recent years with the eye-popping numbers they've put up.
It's certainly not an ideal way for the Cubs to begin the season, but their bullpen was always going to be a work in progress in 2019.