The Chicago Cubs bullpen was once one of the strengths of the team. Now, it has become more suspect by the game.
Just a few weeks ago, it seemed like the Chicago Cubs bullpen was nearly unstoppable. All the starters needed to give on a nightly basis was a solid 5, maybe 6 innings and it felt like the game was over. Things have certainly changed as of late though.
Injuries have been the biggest killer of the formerly strong bullpen. Michael Fulmer is now on his second IL stint with right forearm tightness, and it seems this one might be it for the season. He has had some bad moments, but there was a stretch mid-season where he had a 1.44 ERA for over two months and had some key holds and even a save before he went down for the second time.
Fulmer had been huge for the bullpen, but the loss of Adbert Alzolay has been even more brutal. He went on the IL right before the series in Colorado. After a few rough tries as a starter, the Chicago Cubs decided to go full-time bullpen last year and has been amazing as he worked his way to the closer role. He even saved 18 straight at one point before his injury.
The other two key cogs haven’t been looking great as of late either. Mark Leiter Jr. had been the most consistent reliever the the team had had all season until recently. In just 6.1 innings this month, he has already matched his season high in earned runs for a month with six. It came to an ugly head against the Pirates Wednesday as he gave up three runs when the Cubs were attempting a comeback. The fact he didn’t even throw one of his nasty splitters showed what we all have seen for weeks. He isn’t at his best.
Of all the key Chicago Cubs relievers, Julian Merryweather was the last crucial one who seemed to still have it together. That was until he also unraveled Thursday night against Pittsburgh giving up three runs on two walks and two hits while only recording one out. This was easily his worst outing since April.
I know we all hate to admit it, but this is something many of us saw coming. The constant use of these guys essential guys simply wore them down. All of Leiter, Merryweather, and Alzolay have never made anywhere near this many appearances in a single season. As for Fulmer, he has a history of arm and elbow injuries and is susceptible to them.
You can try to prepare a guy for this in the spring, but it’s not an exact science. It can also be hard to manage in the season when you’re trying to win games in a playoff race and are constantly in full games. Over the length of the season, your top guys can wear down if you don’t get any strong reinforcements.
Lacking reliable reinforcements is an area where the Chicago Cubs have been huge failures this year. So many of the guys the team was hoping would be able to contribute in big innings just haven’t panned out. Keegan Thompson has regressed after a promising 2022 season. Brad Boxberger pitched in 17 games between April and May before going down to injury. He just recently returned and looks like it might be the end of the road for him.
Brandon Hughes was the team’s closer at the end of the season last year but has been injured almost all season. Jose Cuas has done some solid work since coming over from KC, but his wildness and lack of control make him a shaky option when it’s a tight contest.
There were also a lot of other Chicago Cubs the team thought might be back-end guys like Daniel Palencia, Jeremiah Estrada, Michael Rucker, Nick Burdi, and Caleb Killian who either have been hurt, were ineffective in their chances, or just might not ever grow to be the back-end type guy.
The bad news is, at this point, there doesn’t seem like there is much that can be done. The Chicago Cubs find themselves in a tough spot. They are desperate for a win in every game, but just didn’t seem to have enough guys to get the outs anymore. They either choose to ride their beaten-down guys and risk that they are truly out of juice, or they try out different guys and find out the hard way they aren’t ready. We might just have to sit back and continue to watch this once-promising Chicago Cubs season go down in flames over this final week and a half.
For More Great Chicago Sports Content
Follow us on Twitter at @chicitysports23 for more great content. We appreciate you taking time to read our articles. To interact more with our community and keep up to date on the latest in Chicago sports news, JOIN OUR FREE FACEBOOK GROUP by CLICKING HERE