It would be awfully hard to look at one single problem the Chicago Cubs have and say if the team fixes that, it’ll be on its way. The offense can be inconsistent and not always score runs. As of Monday, the team is batting .231 as a unit, good enough for 25th best in MLB. The starting pitching has a 3.79 ERA, 15th best in the game, but that’s mostly because of the performances of Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Jason Hammel. The same could not be said for Edwin Jackson and especially not for Carlos Villanueva. The latter has an ERA+ to the tune of 37 and his WHIPs 2.211. His contract is up this year and at his current rate, the Cubs could not possibly think it’d be a good idea to bring back Villanueva for next year.
However, perhaps the biggest reason the team is 8-16 and 9.5 games out of first place in the NL Central could be credited to the bullpen. For all the criticisms wins and losses gets, the team’s bullpen is 1-5 this season. Don’t blame Hector Rondon for that. He has more than done his job and is deserving of a shot at closer. Don’t believe me? Ask the Milwaukee Brewers, whom he struck out the side in the bottom of the 9th on Sunday to finish out a 4-0 win for the Cubs. I hope I mentioned the Brew Crew has the best record in all of MLB. Justin Grimm hasn’t looked as dominant as Rondon has, but he’s allowed only one run in 11 innings pitched in 2014.
The problems lie within someone like Jose Veras, whose ERA+ is 25 and WHIP 2.824. He was the team’s closer going into the season and a sore left oblique has earned him a spot on the 15-day disabled list. It is going to seem like a pipe dream for the team to pick up his club option for next season if he doesn’t clean up his numbers once he gets back. Though not to extent Veras has, Brian Schlitter has been a problem too and the club just recalled him from AAA Iowa. James Russell has not been as reliable as he has been in the past.
So how can all of this be solved? Good question. For one, if Veras isn’t on thin ice already, he should be. He’ll have to find a new home if this continues. Kyuji Fujikawa is hoping to return soon from Tommy John surgery, though it hasn’t happened yet and like Veras, he is a free agent at season’s end. The Cubs wouldn’t be wise to bring him back unless he is lights out if and when he returns.
Darren O’Day of the Baltimore Orioles is a free agent at season’s end. He has been very reliable the past couple of seasons. Now, he has had some struggles in April. The WHIP is 1.500, which needs to go down. However, even though teams are getting hits off of him, they aren’t getting that many runs off of him. If available, the Cubs may want to consider giving him a shot if they can convince him to sign with the club. Veras and Fujikawa gone with O’Day in could lead to a more productive bullpen in 2015.
For now, the best option would be Rondon at closer. He has earned it. Grimm has looked nice enough. O’Day’s former teammate in Baltimore, Pedro Strop, has been mostly reliable despite some outings of blemishes. These three are whom the Cubs should mostly look to out of the pen, with Russell needed as a left handed arm. If the bullpen improves, then the team could at least start to win more games.
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