On the first day of August, some 24 or so hours after the MLB Trade Deadline passed, Cubs manager Joe Maddon declared it "big-boy time."
With the divisional race as hotly contested as it's been all season, the time has come and gone for the Cubs to worry about development and sentimentalities.
In other words, it's time for production over talent — a mantra Theo Epstein emphasized in his season-ending press conference last October.
The Cubs made a "big-boy time" move Saturday morning when they designated veteran Brad Brach for assignment to make room for Cole Hamels on the 25-man roster. That is almost assuredly the end of Brach's tenure with the Cubs and it means rookie Rowan Wick is getting a shot to continue to prove he belongs in the Cubs bullpen.
Wick has a couple of minor-league options remaining, so the Cubs could've easily sent him back down to Triple-A Iowa to make the numbers fit, but over the last week-plus, he's emerged as a valuable piece to the reliever picture and somebody Maddon is starting to trust more and more.
"What Rowan's doing right now causes us to rethink a lot of stuff," Maddon said before Saturday's game. "You saw him in a really pertinent moment [Friday] and he rose to the occasion again. His fastball's been explosive, he's got the good curveball, his confidence is there. He just needs more opportunity. But yes, he is playing into the decision-making right now."
For the Cubs, it was simple: They needed to continue to see what they have in the 26-year-old Wick and they just could not get the veteran Brach on the right track.
Wick made good on the faith the organization showed in him Saturday, working a scoreless seventh inning to pick up his first big-league victory. He started the inning by falling behind pinch-hitter Eric Thames 3-1, then executed back-to-back-to-back 97 mph fastballs on the black to induce a swing-and-miss, a foul ball and then, ultimately, a strike out in an impressive sequence.
Brach, meanwhile, was hardly being utilized due to his struggles, making only six appearances in pitching 4.1 innings since the All-Star Break. Wick has pitched that much just in the last week.
"You can't try to make a decision based on development right now or hold anything back if you think it's the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do," Maddon said. "Brad was not argumentative at all. Listen, he's gonna get another chance and he's gonna do well. That's my prediction."
Brach, 33, had a long track record of success a high-leverage reliever but with the Cubs, he sported a 6.13 ERA, though his peripheral numbers indicate he was a victim of a lot of bad luck (including a FIP nearly 2 full runs lower than his ERA). He also was giving up home runs at a career-low rate...in a year where dingers are up across the board.
But he had issues with walks and the end result just wasn't enough for what the Cubs need at this point in the season.
"Every time he went out there, I expected a good result," Maddon said. "He was throwing the ball well all year; he's run into some bad luck. Velocity was good. It's really hard to understand why he had such a hard time.
"Saying that, I want him to get another opportunity quickly. Great guy, great family guy, his wife's awesome, their baby. This is a tough one. ... You watch from the side and none of it makes sense. It just doesn't. I think right now, his confidence has been nicked a little bit and once he gets his mojo back, he's gonna be fine."
But the Cubs couldn't afford to wait for Brach to regain his confidence or see his luck turn and at this point, they needed Wick in the bullpen more.
In his first year in the Cubs organization, Wick continues to throw well as a reliever with a fastball that sits up the upper 90s and a wipeout curveball. In 48 innings now between the majors and Triple-A this season, he has 59 strikeouts (11.1 K/9) to go along with a 1.88 ERA and 1.04 WHIP.