Cubs rotation has given the bullpen a heck of an assist lately

Cubs rotation has given the bullpen a heck of an assist lately

Even before the Cubs bullpen gets a major boost when Craig Kimbrel joins the mix in a couple weeks, Pedro Strop and Co. have received another shot in the arm.

Since Cole Hamels lasted just four innings on Memorial Day in Houston, the Cubs bullpen has only been relied upon to account for 29 innings. That's the lowest total in Major League Baseball and also includes an extra-inning game and a three-hour rain delay that knocked starter Jose Quintana out after four innings in St. Louis two weekends ago.

In a 13-game span, relievers have only needed to cover about two innings a game, as Cubs starters have been pitching into the seventh inning on an everyday basis.

That's normally a good recipe for success, but it didn't work out that way for the Cubs Monday night in Colorado in a 6-5 loss. Yu Darvish worked around one rough inning to toss six frames again, but Mike Montgomery and Steve Cishek each gave up a run in the late innings.

It was only the Cubs' second loss in their last eight games, as they've been leaning heavily on their rotation.

"When you get those kinds of performances, then you can actually use the bullpen the way you want to," Joe Maddon said. "You go theoretically perfect before the game and then after that, when the game's in progress and it's not going as you would like it to, then all of a sudden you start going to Plan B and C.

"So when the starters are able to do that, that's what makes for a good bullpen — really good starting pitching makes for a really good bullpen."

During that time, no Cubs reliever has been taxed. Carl Edwards Jr. is the only pitcher who has appeared in half those games and leads the relief corps with 5.1 innings. Nobody else has thrown more than 5 innings in those 12 contests.

Maddon has only had to call on a reliever to throw on back-to-back days on four occasions in the two weeks — once by Edwards, once by Cishek and twice by Kyle Ryan.

Just as important: The Cubs needed a reliever to get more than three outs just three times in the same stretch (and two of those instances were Tyler Chatwood and Edwards eating up innings after the rain delay in St. Louis).

Again, this is all before Kimbrel arrives and truly lengthens the bullpen in all the ways the Cubs have mentioned. If everybody remains healthy, when Kimbrel joins the club and pushes Strop back into a setup role, it would increase Maddon's circle of trust and ensures the Cubs won't have to heap too much on one guy's plate.

Over the last two seasons, the Cubs bullpen has faded down the stretch — at exactly the time relievers become most important. They're hoping that doesn't happen again this fall.

The Cubs still ended up leading the National League in ERA last season, but by the time Game 163 and the Wild-Card Game rolled around, Jesse Chavez was the team's only healthy and trusted reliever. Strop and Brandon Morrow were hurt (though Strop pitched through the pain in the playoff game), Edwards had struggled for more than a month before he was deemed inactive for the Wild-Card game with a forearm issue and Cishek seemed to run into a wall in early September as he set new career highs in appearances and innings pitched.

Thanks in large part to this current stretch, Cubs relievers have had a manageable workload so far this season. Cishek and Ryan are the clubhouse leaders in appearances, but they're only on pace for 71 games and Maddon has backed off Cishek since he was asked to get a seven-out save May 19 in Washington D.C.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream

Joe Girardi steps down as manager for Olympic qualifying team to pursue MLB openings

Joe Girardi steps down as manager for Olympic qualifying team to pursue MLB openings

Joe Girardi’s name has come up for just about every managerial opening in Major League Baseball and it sounds like he is all in on pursuing that opportunity.

Girardi was set to manage USA Baseball’s Olympic qualifying team. He was named the manager of Team USA in August. His first tournament was going to be the upcoming Premier12 tournament, which is the first chance to qualify for the Olympics. Camp was set to begin on Oct. 21 and the U.S.’s first game is Nov. 2.

Instead, Girardi has stepped down. USA Baseball broke the news with a press release that announced Scott Brosius, a former teammate of Girardi’s on the Yankees, will take over.

The reason is the interesting part. He stepped down “as he pursues open managerial opportunities in Major League Baseball.”

At the very least, it sounds like Girardi is interested in at least one of the openings in MLB. He interviewed with the Cubs last week so this won't quell any speculation that he would come back to the North Side as a manager.

David Ross may still be the odds on favorite to fill the Cubs’ vacancy, but Girardi’s apparent interest in rejoining the ranks of MLB managers is certainly noteworthy. One would think if Girardi wants to get back into managing in MLB, at this indicates, he will get a job. Now the question is where he will land.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Barring a Cubs-Angels World Series, the Wrigley Field faithful might not have much of an opportunity to welcome Joe Maddon back to The Friendly Confines.

It didn't take long for Maddon to find a job, as he reportedly agreed this week to join the Los Angeles Angels as their next manager. This was a widely speculated move after the Angels let go of manager Brad Ausmus just one year into a three-year contract immediately after the Cubs announced they were parting ways with Maddon. 

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers, Maddon's deal will likely be for three years at $4-5 million a season:

Maddon came up as a coach in the Angels system, referencing his three decades there often during the course of his five years in Chicago.

Once the Cubs got rid of Maddon, it was obvious he would have plenty of suitors, as just about any team with a managerial vacancy would be interested in the future Hall of Famer. But instead of going to an up-and-coming team like the Padres or a squad on the cusp of the playoffs like the Phillies, Maddon opted to return to his baseball home.

That means he will most likely not face off against the Cubs over the next couple of seasons, as the Cubs hosted the Angels in 2019 and are not slated to play each other again until 2021 (which will take place in L.A.). Barring the aforementioned World Series meeting, Maddon and the Cubs likely won’t cross paths in Chicago for the next few seasons.

It also means Maddon will get to team up with the best player in the game (Mike Trout) and an exciting young two-way star (Shohei Ohtani) while inheriting a roster that otherwise has some major flaws. The Angels have struggled to build up a roster around Trout over his nine seasons, making the playoffs just once in 2014 and getting bounced from the ALDS by the Kansas City Royals that season.

But the Angels do have some intriguing prospects coming up the system — led by outfielder Jo Adell — and Maddon has experience taking a team and elevating them to contender status immediately. He also carries immediate clout that will help draw free agents to L.A., as he did in Chicago with Jon Lester.

Maddon will be reunited with former Cubs fan favorite Tommy La Stella, who was starring for the Angels earlier this season before a leg injury sent him to the shelf for several months.

In many ways, this is an ideal fit for Maddon, who will get to stay in a big market with a team willing to spend and a roster that at least has some incredible talent from Day 1. It would obviously be a difficult task to try to overtake the juggernaut Houston Astros in the AL West, but he accomplished a similar feat in Chicago when he led the Cubs past the Cardinals in Year 1 (and kept the Cards out of the playoffs for the next three years until their return to October baseball this fall).

The Cubs, meanwhile, have not yet announced a new manager, though David Ross still looms as the favorite to take over Maddon's former gig. Theo Epstein's front office interviewed Mark Loretta, Will Venable, Joe Girardi and Ross earlier this month and also planned to talk to Joe Espada and Gabe Kapler this week.

Epstein said the Cubs are "full speed ahead" to hire a new manager, so expect them to move quickly to finalize Maddon's heir.