The Chicago Cubs beat the Washington Nationals on Thursday in a makeup game, but the big story for the Cubs in this one was the injury to interim closing pitcher Pedro Strop. His injury occurred during an appearance at the plate, as he hurt his hamstring running down to first base on a ground ball. Strop only got that plate appearance because the team had depleted many of their bench bats earlier in the game, and it ended up coming back to bite them.
Strop has been solid for the Cubs once again this season with a 2.33 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and he has racked up 13 saves while main closer Brandon Morrow has been on the disabled list. He has been one of the strongest members of the bullpen since coming to Chicago, posting a 2.65 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 10.2 K/9 rate in 360 total appearances, and he has also had a knack for getting out of tight situations on the mound.
While Strop recovers from this injury, there are a few different guys who could take over duties in the ninth inning. One of them is side-arm slinger Steve Cishek, who has pitched in nearly every possible role except as a starter for the Cubs this year. He has done well all season long with a 2.33 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 10.3 K/9 rate over 72 appearances, and I thought he had done well enough in the first half to be a dark-horse All-Star candidate. Cishek does have plenty of closing experience in his career with 124 saves (including a pair of 30+ save seasons), and he has picked up three saves for the Cubs this season when Morrow and Strop have needed nights off.
Another guy who could close is Carl Edwards Jr. He had been on the short list of in-house closing options over the last couple of offseasons before the team ultimately decided to add Wade Davis via trade for 2017 and sign Morrow this year. C.J.’s electric fastball has helped him to a 2.44 ERA and 11.8 K/9 rate this season, and I think his stuff would definitely play as well in the ninth inning as it does the rest of the time. They could also turn to lefty Justin Wilson, who acted as Detroit’s closer prior to being traded to the Cubs after Francisco Rodriguez proved to be highly ineffective in that role. In that half-season as a closer he put up a 2.68 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 12.3 K/9 rate while notching 13 saves, and this year he has also done well with a 2.92 ERA and 11.5 K/9 over 66 appearances.
No matter who manager Joe Maddon decides to turn to to close out ballgames, this injury to Strop is a huge blow to the bullpen. Taking his production out of the group makes the whole unit a little weaker, and that will put a whole lot of pressure on both the young/less-used relievers and the rotation to step their games up during this time. His injury will also make it a lot harder for the Cubs to keep winning games and try to hold the Milwaukee Brewers off from taking over the lead in the NL Central.
There is not a lot of baseball left to be played this season, but the games that remain will be very important to the Cubs as they try to hang on to both the NL Central lead and the 1 seed in the NL side of the playoff bracket.
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