ST. LOUIS — As the Cubs bullpen righted the ship following that 2-7 stretch to begin the season, Carl Edwards Jr. and Kyle Ryan were a big part of the turnaround for different reasons.
Edwards was sent to the minors before that road trip even ended after allowing 6 runs in 3 appearances. With Mike Montgomery also heading to the injured list at the same time, the Cubs called up Allen Webster and Ryan, who immediately helped stabilize their bullpen.
Now, as the Cubs are once again mired in a tough stretch (2-8 in their last 10 games), the opposite is taking place: Ryan is trending downward and Edwards is on the way back up.
Ryan gave up a pair of homers in Saturday night's loss and has now surrendered 12 hits and 8 runs (7 earned) in 7 innings since he "froze" in the ninth inning of a loss to the Marlins on May 6.
That's a far cry from the previous 12 innings in which Ryan allowed just 2 earned runs (1.50 ERA) and only a baserunner an inning (8 hits, 4 walks).
Meanwhile, Edwards has been moving in the right direction, allowing runs in only 2 of his 11 appearances since rejoining the big-league bullpen. More importantly, he's walked just 1 batter in 10.1 innings and he's throwing a strike 65 percent of the time.
"When he's throwing his curveball for a strike and not bouncing it and the hitter has to honor that, the fastball becomes even better," Joe Maddon said. "With him, when he's not over-boogeying on the curveball and it can be a strike, that's when he can really be effective."
Edwards has worked mostly in low-leverage situations since being recalled, so he's not yet back to fulfilling his role as the X-factor in the Cubs bullpen. But he carved through the toughest part of the Cardinals lineup Saturday night, retiring Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna in order (with some help from his defense).
Ryan's precipitous drop in production is even more concerning on multiple levels — when he's struggling, the Cubs don't necessarily have a reliable lefty to go to out of the bullpen (Mike Montgomery's ideal role is a multi-inning spot) and also the fact that Ryan is now getting hit hard after he spent the first month inducing a lot of weak contact and groundballs.
The home runs he gave up Saturday night were only the second and third of the season.
"He kinda looks the same to me — maybe just execution of the pitch or the selection, those kinds of things," Maddon said. "I have a lot of confidence in him. He's a strike-thrower; he normally puts the ball on the ground. Home runs are really unlikely, normally, against him.
"So I'll just keep moving it forward. They were the right guys for him [to face], but it just didn't play out for him [Saturday]. But I have a lot of confidence in the guy — he's always ready; he's a professional. I do believe he's capable of getting on a good run for us."
The bullpen will always be a polarizing topic surrounding this comes team.
Things should stabilize at least a little bit for the relief corps once Pedro Strop returns (which should be early this week), but it would certainly behoove the Cubs if Edwards continues along this path and Ryan can turn things around.