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Stop kidding yourselves — Craig Kimbrel wouldn't magically solve all of the Cubs' bullpen issues.

Even if the elite closer (who is still a free agent, by the way) walked through the door of the Cubs locker room tomorrow, that doesn't suddenly make this one of the best bullpens in the game. And it sure doesn't change anything in the standings — the Cubs can't retroactively add three more wins to their record.

Five games into 2019, the Cubs don't have a closer problem. They have a problem getting the ball to the closer. 

On Saturday in Texas, the Cubs gave up the lead in the 8th inning when Carl Edwards Jr. served up a 3-run homer to Joey Gallo. On Sunday, it was Tyler Chatwood and Mike Montgomery giving up 4 runs in the 7th inning and then Pedro Strop throwing a wild pitch in the 9th to give the Rangers a walk-off win.

Then Wednesday, it was Steve Cishek who walked the first three hitters in the 8th inning before Randy Rosario was tagged for a 3-run double. 

Kimbrel would not have stopped any of those three bullpen meltdowns and the only part he may have been able to help was Sunday's game in that he likely would've pitched the 9th inning of a 10-10 tie instead of Strop.

But these guys — Edwards, Strop, Cishek — are supposed to be the guys. Even if Kimbrel was around or Brandon Morrow was back from injury, that wouldn't immediately have a positive trickle-down effect on the rest of the bullpen. 

 

Nobody predicted Cishek would walk 3 batters in a row. Edwards has faded down the stretch the last couple years, but he has been lights-out at the start of each season and was coming off a fantastic spring. Strop has been the Cubs' most consistent member of the bullpen for more than a half-decade and is one of the more underrated relievers in all of baseball.

This is a system-wide failure in the bullpen right now. The Cubs' problems go well beyond the closer. Kimbrel isn't signing on and throwing 3 innings every night.

Sure, if the Cubs had Kimbrel, Joe Maddon could've called Strop's number for the 8th inning, maybe things don't get out of hand and the Cubs improve their record to 2-3. But Cishek is one of the most trusted relievers and for good reason — he had a 2.18 ERA and 1.04 WHIP last year even including late-season struggles. And he had been dominant (4 Ks, only 1 hit allowed in 1.2 innings prior to Wednesday). 

Kimbrel or no Kimbrel, that doesn't change the fact that even reliable relievers are failing to come through for the Cubs right now. It doesn't matter what name Maddon calls and it wouldn't matter who he has back there waiting for the 9th inning. The Cubs haven't even gotten to the 9th with a lead since Opening Day.

Some numbers from the Cubs bullpen right now:

They've allowed 17 earned runs on 17 walks and 20 hits in 17.1 innings through five games this season.

That's a 8.83 ERA and 2.14 WHIP. 

The Cubs have an eight-man bullpen. Through five games, five of those eight pitchers have an ERA 16.20 or higher and six of those guys have a WHIP 2.00 or higher. 

This is an everybody problem.

The bullpen was the clear weakness on this team heading into the season and even if these last few games have had a different outcome, there was a legitimate case to be made that Theo Epstein's front office should've added another quality reliever or two to this group, even if it wasn't Kimbrel.

But nobody could've seen this coming.

The good news is: It's pretty safe to say there's no way this will continue forever. Every team has a stretch of bad bullpen meltdowns during the course of every season. It's highly unlikely guys like Strop, Cishek and the others are going to continue to struggle to this level when they have long track records of success. Mike Montgomery won't have a 40.50 ERA forever. 

But when there's less than a week's worth of action to judge a season on, the problem is certainly magnified.

Throw in the fact that this problem was the biggest concern all winter plus all the comments from players, coaches and front office members about the need for a hot start, and it's the perfect equation to send Cubs fans into an angry frenzy.

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