The MLB trade deadline is just two days away and as the Cubs evaluate the current state of their bullpen, a new name has entered the picture.
Just like Kyle Ryan before him, Rowan Wick has ascended from within the organization to potentially become a factor down the stretch for the big-league bullpen.
As the Cubs got set for a crucial game Sunday against the Brewers, it's telling that people were as concerned about the availability of Wick as closer Craig Kimbrel.
While the rest of the Cubs bullpen melted down Friday and Saturday in heartbreaking losses in Milwaukee, Joe Maddon had to call on Wick in a couple of high-leverage spots and the 26-year-old rookie rose to the challenge. He got a big out Friday before notching four outs to help send the game to extra innings Saturday, working around a pair of walks.
"I won't be nearly as reticent now just to put him out there based off what he did [Saturday], what he's done to this point. Guys like that, you don't know — you're just trying to break them in and see how they react," Maddon said, while also lauding Wick's poise and calm nature. "The other thing is command of his curveball. For me, a young guy with a good curveball can come out, maybe a little quick, force it. He hasn't. He's been throwing it for a strike. So as of right now, he's pretty much in check emotionally."
In his first year with the Cubs (they acquired him in a minor trade with the San Diego Padres in November), Wick has a 2.70 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and 11 strikeouts in 10 innings in three different stretches with the big-league club and he may be done riding the Chicago-Iowa shuttle.
So what's been the main difference for Wick this time around?
"Just being more comfortable and honestly, not letting the environment and the amount of people in the stadium affect you," Wick said. "Just being like, alright, if I can do it in Triple-A, why can't I do it here?"
The Cubs very well may still add to the bullpen before the trade deadline, but Wick has been a nice last-minute boost to a unit that has watched Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek and Brandon Kintzler all struggle lately, plus Brad Brach's disappointing season and Kimbrel's issues. Derek Holland has only made two appearances with the Cubs, but he could emerge as another reliable left-handed option for Maddon out of the bullpen.
After signing late in the season and taking a few weeks in June to get up to speed, Kimbrel had a shaky start to his Cubs career. But he appeared to be righting the ship with eight scoreless appearances in a row prior to Saturday's blown save/loss.
However, he carries a season ERA of 6.75 and WHIP of 1.69 into the big series with the Cardinals Tuesday.
This is about as worrisome as it gets:
In 542 appearances before becoming a Cub, Craig Kimbrel had given up multiple home runs in an outing just once.— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) July 28, 2019
In 12 games as a Cub, he's done it twice.
But that's also another prime example of how the ball certainly looks to be more conducive for homers this season.
In his multi-homer outing Saturday, Kimbrel gave up the first shot to reigning MVP Christian Yelich (something so many pitchers can say over the last two years) and the second to Keston Hiura wasn't even that bad of a pitch and a ball that didn't seem like it was going to get out initially:
Adding to the concern is Kimbrel's dip in velocity — he's averaging just 96.1 mph on his fastball this season, the lowest mark of his career and a stark drop from the 98+ mph he averaged from 2014-17.
That's been another sign to the Cubs that the 31-year-old veteran closer is not ready for four- or five-out saves yet, despite the issues of the team's other high-leverage relievers in front of him.
"I'm still of the ilk that he needs more time," Maddon said. "That's why I don't want to press him into one-plus [innings]. He's not there yet. He's still working through some mechanical things with himself and just purely arm strength.
"[Saturday] was a tough night. In the brief period of time I've gotten to know this guy, he is straight up, man. He'll work through it. He'll be fine with this whole thing. But right now, he's not quite where he's gonna be over the next couple weeks."
Maddon reaffirmed Kimbrel is perfectly healthy, but reminded the right-hander has had a very unconventional season to date — having not pitched at all in spring training or April/May before finally getting on a mound again in mid-June.
As the Cubs gear up for the stretch run, Kimbrel will still go down as their biggest acquisition — both in the bullpen and in general.