For the third straight season, the Chicago Cubs are entering the season as serious World Series contenders, and their roster depth reflects that standing in the baseball world.
How will things shake out for the Cubs as they convene in Mesa and get their spring underway? We’re taking a deep dive into the team’s roster and finding out where things stand with the club.
Today, we wrap up our look at the team’s roster with an examination of their bullpen, which looks significantly different than it did in 2017.
Spring Training Photos: Chicago Cubs Arrive in Mesa
Gone are the days when the Cubs had a surefire closer going into spring training, as Wade Davis has signed with the Colorado Rockies and Hector Rondon has signed with the Houston Astros.
Instead, the Cubs will likely go with Brandon Morrow as their closer, after he posted some strong numbers with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 45 appearances, he posted a 2.06 ERA, giving up zero home runs and striking out 50 batters in 43.2 innings of work.
Morrow induces a lot of ground balls and has some funky movement on his pitches, and the Cubs will bank on him to translate that movement into being a quality closer, despite the fact that he has just two saves over the last eight MLB seasons.
Despite his struggles in the playoffs, Carl Edwards Jr. is right there in the mix to be one of the Cubs’ key setup men. He had a 2.98 ERA and 94 strikeouts in just 66.1 innings, and his electric stuff has baffled hitters and caused the Cubs to hand him larger and larger roles with each successive season.
Pedro Strop also figures to play a significant role, especially with the departure of Rondon from the bullpen. The hurler had a 2.83 ERA in 69 appearances last year, and although his strikeout rate was down over the year before, he still managed to keep runs from scoring. His walk rate did increase a bit however, so his control needs work.
Finally, Steve Cishek could figure into the team’s plans in the seventh and eighth innings of games as well. The submarine hurler gets great movement on his pitches, and his unconventional arm angle could prove invaluable to the Cubs as they try to vary the looks of pitchers coming out of their bullpen this season.
Cishek could also fill a specialist role for the Cubs, as he is incredible strong against right-handed hitters. He held them to a paltry .148 batting average a season ago, and struck out 30 of them in just 108 at-bats. His numbers against lefties were also strong, but that righty number is definitely one that Joe Maddon is going to pay attention to.
The Cubs also opted to bring back lefty Brian Duensing, who had some surprising reverse splits last season as he allowed a .237 batting average to right-handed hitters, and was used more against them than lefties. He could fill a sixth inning role in the event of a short start, but Maddon will also have options with him coming out of the pen.
The big name to keep an eye on outside of the normal platoon pitchers is Justin Wilson, who could easily fit into the set-up role if he comes back strong after last year’s catastrophic performance with the team. He could also continue that downward trend, which would leave him on the outside looking in when it comes to his role in the mix.
Finally, there’s Justin Grimm, who will be in more of a mop-up role until he can show that last year’s struggles were an aberration, and Mike Montgomery, who will likely lose out on a spot in the rotation and will instead have to settle back into his role as a strong lefty and a long reliever out of the Cubs’ pen.