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
Chicago athletes are using their social media platforms to react to the nationwide unrest following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis quoted Martin Luther King Jr., expressing sadness over the fallout, which has included riots in cities across the nation.
I don’t care what you’re motive is out there.. breaking windows, stealing everthing inside, destroying businesses that have nothing to do with your cause is wrong! #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd doesn’t come in the shape of new Nike’s! #BeSafeEveryone #StopLooting— Jason Kipnis (@TheJK_Kid) May 31, 2020
Saturday night, White Sox starter Lucas Giolito said it's "time to do better" and "time for true equality & justice for all Americans." Bulls guard Zach LaVine, who played three seasons in Minnesota, tweeted "this has been going on for hundreds of years now!"
This has been going on for hundreds of years now! And still with little to no change. Got to do better! But how can there be change if the ones with POWER are not willing to listen or do anything about their actions! #BlackLivesMatters— Zach LaVine (@ZachLaVine) May 30, 2020
White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson tweeted Nike's response, a somber video calling on Americans to "all be part of the change." Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward shared the same video on his Instagram story.
Bulls big man Wendell Carter Jr. asked "Is it that hard to just do the right thing and love one another" on Twitter.
What is going on man ? Is it that hard to just do the right thing and love one another. You know how simple and fun this world would be if we just did those 2 things ?— Wendell Carter Jr (@wendellcarter34) May 30, 2020
Cubs World Series hero Dexter Fowler posted a photo on Instagram reading "I can't breathe" Thursday, writing "This isn't right. This can't go on."
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.View this post on Instagram
Here’s the thing. I know it’s hard to fully grasp why black people are outraged. It’s hard to grasp unless you’ve seen people hold their purses tighter when you walk by, when you have people refer to you as “not black” when you’re not “ghetto”. When your parents have to give you a talk when you’re just a kid. “you can’t act like your white friends. you’ll get killed. they won’t” This is a generational discussion EVERY black family has. It terrifies you as a kid, and as an adult. You don’t understand why we know, those officers didn’t flinch at murdering that man, because he is black. The race card. We hold it. You tell us “it’s not about race” if we ever hold you to it. You don’t want us to have even that 1 bone chilling “privilege” of defense. You don’t want us to hold any privilege. We don’t hold the privilege of being a criminal, making a mistake, or simply taking a jog, the same as a white man, and being treated the same. He couldn’t breathe. He was murdered. They were gently fired from their jobs. This isn’t right. This can’t go on. (if you assume “you”, is you, and you’re upset about the generalization...... just think about that for a second)
Assuming safety protocols are effective enough to allow teams to play in their home stadiums and prevent coronavirus outbreaks well enough to play the three-month MLB season and subsequent postseason, we took a shot, based on conversations with multiple industry sources, at answering how the Cubs might handle several logistical questions.
The nature of the COVID-19 pandemic makes any plan open to sudden and possibly dramatic change. But if the current trends don’t change significantly in the coming weeks and months, and the generally optimistic signals from local authorities continue, a baseball season in Chicago can start to at least be envisioned.
And here are seven glimpses of what that vision might include — with an unexpected bonus to whet fan appetite at No. 4.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.