Just in time for July and the busiest time of the season for contender shopping, the Cubs’ trio of back-end veteran relievers have put together the kind of group showcase for would-be buyers over the past month that would be the envy of any seller.
Against playoff hopefuls St. Louis, Atlanta, Boston and the Yankees this year — all since the start of June — closer David Robertson and setup veterans Mychal Givens and Chris Martin have combined for a 0.75 ERA in 20 appearances.
In 24 combined innings over that span, only Givens has given up an earned run, and that was two on June 2 — the first appearance by any of them in the span.
Along the way, Martin beat the defending-champion Braves (his former team) and picked up holds against the Cardinals and Red Sox; and Robertson beat the Cardinals in St. Louis and earned his eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th saves against the Braves, Cardinals, Red Sox and Red Sox again.
Think those teams didn’t notice.
Relief pitching might be at the top of Boston’s wish list at the deadline. The Yankees almost certainly will be in the market (and might remember each of the trio’s scoreless inning in the Bronx in the one game of that series that wasn’t a Yankees blowout).
It may not be the Big Three of Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Chafin and Ryan Tepera that netted the Cubs reliever Codi Heuer, second baseman Nick Madrigal and three prospects at the deadline last year.
But stay tuned for what might be an intriguing July for this year’s version of the Cubs’ Big Three bullpen pieces.
1. Kyle Hendricks (last week: NR) — Back-to-back “vintage Kyle” starts since a prescribed rest for shoulder fatigue suddenly has the Cubs’ Opening Day starter looking like a potentially high-value trade chip in a market without a slam-dunk October monster.
It’s a “double-edged sword,” he said of pitching well enough to help the team at a time it also drives his trade value up as he toils for a certain seller. Hendricks doesn’t want to go anywhere, he said. But he’s bracing for the possibility.
“I don’t know if you could be prepared for it,” said the man who beat Clayton Kershaw for the pennant in 2016 and started the historic Game 7 victory in the World Series. “But everything that went down last year really opened our eyes. We saw what could happen.”
2. Willson Contreras (last week: 3) — The likeliest core player to be moved at the deadline also moves up a spot the week he’s expected to be named the NL’s starting catcher for the third time in four All-Star games.
If he and Hendricks are both traded that would leave from the 2016 championship roster only one player, Jason Heyward, raising the question anew of whether the much-maligned right fielder has played his last game as a Cub (he’s on the IL with a knee injury of uncertain severity).
3. David Robertson (last week: 1) — Robertson drops from the top spot through little fault of his own; it’s mostly a function of Hendricks’ Power Rankings-shaking debut in the top spot. In fact, another strong week not only helped sustain very big trade value but keeps him in play for a shot at a second All-Star bid this weekend.
4. Ian Happ (last week: 2) — Happ drops out of the top three for the first time this season despite another big week (.943 OPS against the Reds and Red Sox). Could it be because the narrative is shifting away from his trade value (it’s big) to his long-term value to the Cubs and a possible extension?
Maybe. But don’t sleep on the possible first-time All-Star at the deadline. That extra year of club control next year still makes him a strong No. 4 this week.
5. (tie) Chris Martin and Mychal Givens (last week: 4 and NR, respectively) — The Power Rankings’ first tie of the season says as much about the aforementioned group success of the back-end bullpen guys against potential buyers as it does about a trade market that’s about to pick up considerably in the next few weeks, if not days.
Dropped out: David Bote.