Saving grace: How the Cubs created a 12-man bullpen

Saving grace: How the Cubs created a 12-man bullpen

The Cubs saw their bullpen run full-speed into a brick wall late last year.

After serving as a strength of the team in the first 4-5 months of the season, the Cubs bullpen fell off a cliff and struggled mightily toward the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. They simply ran out of gas.

It was one of the main areas the Cubs looked to improve this winter, even as they lost Wade Davis, Hector Rondon and Koji Uehara to free agency.

Theo Epstein's front office added Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek to the relief corps and brought back Brian Duensing, but it's all the underrated moves that are really paying off for the Cubs bullpen right now.

Luke Farrell, Randy Rosario, Cory Mazzoni and Anthony Bass were all signed in the offseason in minor moves and Justin Hancock was acquired from the San Diego Padres for Matt Szczur last May.

Those 5 guys have combined to make 34 appearances for the Cubs in 2018 and to simply say they've been "successful" would be a massive understatement.

That group has combined for a 1.88 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 48 innings, striking out 49 batters and allowing just 4 homers. 

"One of the bigger differences this year is the other pitchers that have been chosen in the offseason to ride that train between here and Triple-A have done really well," Joe Maddon said. "There's a lot more to choose from, too."

The success of those guys has allowed Maddon to mix those 5 in with Brandon Morrow, Carl Edwards Jr. (who is currently on the disabled list), Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson, Mike Montgomery (who is currently in the rotation) and Duensing to form a 12-man bullpen of sorts.

In a day and age in Major League Baseball where so much emphasis is now put on the bullpen, that's a huge advantage the Cubs have carved out for themselves.

"Pro scouting is more than just like a big free agent sign or a big trade," Epstein said. "It's also a lot of depth moves and in that regard, it's been a really, really nice year for our pro scouting department and our organizational depth. 

"Not only are there a number of guys throwing well in the Iowa 'pen, but they've come up here and given us 50 or so innings of really good baseball collectively. Stepping into big games and high leverage spots and performing well. That — along with the performance of the core bullpen guys — has made it a really nice year in the 'pen so far."

The impact of all those under-the-radar guys has given the Cubs the best ERA in the National League (3.17) and second best overall behind only the Houston Astros. Only the Arizona Diamondbacks (2.50) and Milwaukee Brewers (2.65) have better bullpen ERAs than the Cubs' 2.67 mark in the MLB.

The numbers are good for the 5 guys, obviously, but even more than that, they've been able to give Maddon multiple innings and save arms for other days.

Of the 34 appearances by that group, 15 of them have resulted in more than 3 outs, including Farrell's inspired 5-inning performance in extra innings in New York earlier this month.

On top of talent, the "Iowa pitchers" have all complimented the way the clubhouse and coaching staff has embraced them, allowing them to feel comfortable from Day 1.

This is all by design. This is what the Cubs front office had in mind over the winter, but actually even before that.

They released Justin Grimm in spring training in part because he had no minor-league options remaining. 

Farrell, Rosario, Hancock and Mazzoni all entered the year with multiple options remaining, so they could conceivably fill a similar role next year if they continue to find success and remain with the Cubs.

More than half the season is left to be played, but for right now, these guys have done a heck of a job keeping the Cubs' top relievers fresh while trying to carve out a role for themselves moving forward.

"We've been trying to get to that point for a couple years where we can have optionable relievers that you can kinda shuttle in and out that we trusted," Epstein said. "The best way to make sure your key relievers stay fresh all year is to trust all your relievers so that you're using them all and spreading the workload around.

"And it's been hard to get to that point the last couple years. There was the year Grimm was kinda like that last guy when he was out of options. It's just nice to now have a situation where we have multiple optionable relievers that are doing a reliable job that Joe can trust a little bit. Maybe use the whole 'pen instead of just a handful of guys."

Baseball comes second for Cubs in Addison Russell situation


Baseball comes second for Cubs in Addison Russell situation

Two years after Theo Epstein sat in the visiting dugout on the South Side addressing the Cubs' trade for Aroldis Chapman in the same season he was suspended by Major League Baseball for domestic violence, the president of baseball operations once again had to touch on a similar topic in the same ballpark.

Addison Russell was placed on administrative leave early Friday afternoon, hours after a blog post surfaced from his ex-wife detailing physical and psychological abuse throughout their relationship.

"Disturbing" is how Epstein described Melisa Reidy's account when he saw it late Thursday night and said he immediately reached out to MLB's investigative body to see if they could verify any of the details.

Epstein and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts had a phone call with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and the league office Friday morning, during which it was revealed the league would be placing Russell on administrative leave.

Russell can remain on leave for up to seven days and that leave can be extended by the league if need be after that time.

Epstein and Ricketts then met with Russell to inform him of the league's decision and questioned the shortstop on the details in Reidy's post.

"He reaffirmed his stance that he did not do what he is accused of having done," Epstein said.

The Cubs have no idea if Russell will play again this season as the team is in the midst of a tight pennant race in the final 10 days of September. But they also acknowledge baseball comes second in a time like this.

"Any time there are accusations of this nature, they have to be taken very seriously and timing or inconvenience doesn't play into it," Epstein said. "All parties have an obligation to get to a just and fair resolution and if that includes discipline if appropriate, then so be it. If it doesn't, then so be it.

"But the important thing here is that justice and fairness is ultimately found. Timing is not ideal, but it doesn't matter. What matters is getting to a just and fair resolution and we're supportive of the league's step."

There's not much the Cubs can do over the next week, as the matter "is in the league's court to do the investigation," Ricketts said.

Joe Maddon addressed the team with Epstein and Ricketts before Friday's game and has shifted his focus toward trying to win ballgames with the rest of the roster, stepping back to let the league handle the matter.

Between Epstein, Ricketts and Maddon, the word "process" was brought up over and over again in more than 20 minutes of press conferences.

Step 1 in that process was Russell being placed on administrative leave. Step 2 is the fact-finding mission as the league attempts to verify the "disturbing" claims.

The league opened an investigation on Russell last June after a domestic violence allegation was brought to light in a comment by Reidy's friend on an Instagram post. The comment was later deleted and Reidy did not cooperate with the MLB investigation, though the investigation remained open and Epstein admitted he has checked in with the league from time to time about the matter.

Russell spent only a couple days away from the team last June and was not placed on any official leave.

There is no word yet on if Reidy will cooperate with MLB's investigation this time around.

"Last year, it was a third-party accusation on social media," Epstein said. "And now, this is a direct accusation from the accuser, from the potential victim. The situation has changed. He was not placed on administrative leave last year. He was away from the team briefly, but we think this step is appropriate in light of the post."

Despite the accusation last June, reading the comments from Reidy's blog post was jarring for everybody involved.

"It always is," Maddon said, "whether it's on the baseball team, in your own personal family, wherever you may work. That just seems to be the way things are today."

The Cubs distanced themselves from making any sort of statement on Russell's character away from how they know him in a professional setting - as a ballplayer at the ballpark.

The next few days will determine Russell's standing with the Cubs and in the league for the rest of this season and possibly beyond.

"That balancing act that comes with an accusation and validating the rights of the accuser and providing an appropriate forum is something that's really difficult," Epstein said. "We don't have the answer for that, except that we know we have to take it as seriously as we possibly can to follow the process, because the process is designed to defend everyone's rights and to lead to a fair and just outcome."

MLB places Addison Russell on administrative leave following new allegations

USA Today

MLB places Addison Russell on administrative leave following new allegations

Cubs infielder Addison Russell has been placed on administrative leave after new reports of domestic abuse surfaced last night

Late Thursday night, Melisa Reidy -- who was married to Russell for a time -- wrote in length about the disturbing details of their relationship. In the piece, she outlines years of enduring both mental and physical abuse. 

Here's the official MLB statement: 

Major League Baseball takes all allegations of Domestic Violence seriously. When the allegations against Addison Russell became public on June 7, 2017 the Commissioner's Office's Department of Investigations immediately commenced an investigation at that time. Our investigation of this matter has remained open and we have continued our efforts to gather information.

With the new details revealed in today's blog post by Ms. Russell, Mr. Russell has been placed on Administrative Leave in accordance with the Joint MLB-MLBPA Domestic Violence Policy. We are hopeful that this new information will allow us to complete the investigation as promptly as possible.

More to come.