The NL Central race undoubtedly just got a whole lot more interesting.
Just when the Cubs seemed on the verge of locking the division up, the Brewers made yet another push. As recent as last Thursday, Chicago was sitting atop the NL Central with a somewhat comfortable lead.
The Cubs were fresh off of a season-opening victory over the Washington Nationals in D.C. immediately after bringing home the series finale against Milwaukee. This gave Chicago a 4.5 game division lead.
However, poor weather then hit Washington and simultaneously poor play did for the Cubs as well. Chicago dropped the final two against the Nationals and suddenly are grasping to a slim two-game division lead.
With a series against the Brewers beginning Monday, it would be ignorant and overconfident to say the Cubs have locked up the division. Personally, I believe Chicago will persevere and take home its third consecutive NL Central crown. But, even if this isn’t the case, the Cubs have still essentially clinched the playoffs.
ESPN analytics give Chicago a 99.8% chance of reaching the postseason for the fourth straight season. So, let’s just assume the Cubs will make the playoffs.
That then arises potentially the most relevant question for Chicago regarding the playoffs. And that is who will shut the door in the ninth inning for the Cubs.
It was recently announced that closer Brandon Morrow, who has been on the DL with a biceps injury since mid-July, may not return this season.
If he does not, and there seems to be a significant chance of that, what will Chicago do?
The answer is a closer by committee, something Maddon’s 2008 Rays were forced to do in the postseason.
This obviously isn’t an ideal circumstance for any team, but it is definitely possible to succeed with. Especially with a bullpen as deep as the Cubs’.
The 2008 Rays may have not won the World Series, but they were only three wins away from doing so. And granted, no one was beating the Phillies that season. This is prime evidence that a closer by committee is not a complete disaster.
For Chicago, one would have to assume that Pedro Strop would be the most desired option to close out games. Strop has been used more than any other reliever in save situations since Morrow hit the DL.
Pedro Strop grabbed the 40th #Cubs save of the season, which means you can enter to win this experience: https://t.co/paqL7pWuS5 #CubsRelief@Biofreeze available at Walgreens. pic.twitter.com/JPSoCtWgtK
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 6, 2018
Strop has gone 10-12 in save opportunities since Morrow’s most recent injury. Overall, Strop has a 2.37 ERA over 57 innings.
Luckily for the Cubs, they have a handful of other bullpen arms that also have the potential to convert in high-pressure situations.
For one, Steve Cishek has been lights out lately, disregarding a recent blip. Besides Morrow, Cishek leads Chicago relievers with a 2.26 ERA over 63 ⅔ innings. Cishek is also one of only two qualified pitchers on the Cubs’ roster with a WHIP under one.
Cishek is an established veteran who has earned Maddon’s trust, to say the least. He has almost always been used in the back end of games and has been successful for the most part.
Without putting matchups in consideration, I’d say the guy you go to if Cishek and Strop are unavailable is Jesse Chavez. It’s tempting to say Carl Edwards Jr. However, he has proven time and time again that he is a toss up in crucial situations.
You really never know what you are getting from Edwards. Meanwhile, Chavez has pitched great since becoming a Cub. He has been lights out through 26 innings for the Northsiders. Chavez has impressively struck out 33 while only walking three batters.
After Edwards, you have to go with Justin Wilson. Wilson is Chicago’s only lefty who is somewhat experienced in late-game situations. The reliever has been clutch lately but he’s another guy that Maddon doesn’t fully trust for good reason.
But, all in all, considering Chicago’s bullpen is exceptionally deep, it could survive the playoffs without a true closer.
- Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Eddie Herz is a senior journalism major at Colorado State University. He has been a beat reporter for CSU's newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Collegian, since he was a freshman. Eddie has also contributed to the BTPowerhouse.com, a sister website of SBnation. Eddie will be the CSU Football beat reporter for the Rocky Mountain Collegian this coming Fall.