Cubs needs to fix their bullpen issues ASAP
Allan Henry - USA Today Sports

Cubs needs to fix their bullpen issues ASAP

by - Staff Writer -

If there’s one thing that has been certain over the years for the Cubs since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer arrived, it is that this regime has a remarkable knack for piecing together various arms to form a top-notch bullpen. Player development in the starting pitching department has been well documented to be missing until very recently.

Drafting position players has been a strong suit — maintaining talent has also been a weakness, but one of the guarantees of the last 10 years or so is that the Cubs will piece together a bullpen full of capable arms who can record big outs for the Cubs.

That seemed like it was going to be true this season. The Cubs had signed two veteran arms, Brad Boxberger and Michael Fulmer.

Keegan Thompson and Adbert Alzolay showed some promise in 2022 and looked poised to take a big step in 2023, and the Cubs loved what Matt Leiter Jr. showed over the last couple of years.

Codi Heuer and Brandon Hughes were on the comeback from injuries, and Jeremiah Estrada, Julian Merryweather, and Michael Rucker looked like they could provide some nice depth, with Rowan Wick emerging as the potential closer.

Not to mention, with what recently felt like unheard-of depth in the starting pitching department, some combination of Javier Assad, Adrian Sampson, Caleb Kilian, and Hayden Wesneski could serve as long relievers or spot starters out of the bullpen when need be.

And it looked that was initially, with the Cubs deploying a 7th-8th-9th inning combo of Keegan Thompson, Brad Boxberger, and Michael Fulmer to complete a shutout victory on Opening Day.

But currently, the Cubs bullpen is ranked at the bottom five in all of baseball.

And if you looked at the Cubs' track record, you’d be impressed. The Cubs had a top-5 bullpen in the National League during the first halves of each of the last two seasons: that, of course, before the Cubs had dealt Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera, Scott Effross, Craig Kimbrel, David Robertson, Mychal Givens, Chris Martin at the respective deadlines over the last two seasons.

However, this year has been tough sledding for David Ross while trying to piece together the end of ballgames — especially after strong starts from the Cubs' three-headed monster of Justin Steele, Marcus Stroman, and Drew Smyly.

Nearly two months into the season, Keegan Thompson, Javier Assad, and Hayden Wesneski have been sent down to the minor leagues to work on various things and improve before returning to the big league level. Brad Boxberger is on the injured list. Only Brandon Hughes has returned from the injured list to start the season, and Adrian Sampson, Kyle Hendricks, and Codi Heuer are still there.

The fact of the matter is, this Cubs bullpen is very thin — and while it was anticipated to be a strength of this roster, as has been the organization's strength over the last half-dozen seasons, it simply has been a glaring weakness instead.

The Cubs have made some adjustments already; flame-thrower Nick Burdi is up with the big league team — as is Jeremiah Estrada — plus Kyle Hendricks and Codi Heuer are on rehab assignments and should be approaching their 2023 debuts soon.

I assume Thompson may not be down for long, and the Cubs will need Wesneski or Assad, or Kilian to make a start or two as the season continues.

Reinforcements are coming, but there is no secret that a large reason the Cubs have dipped six games below .500 is the fact that there are a very limited amount of arms currently pitching well enough to be in David Ross’ circle of trust.

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