We all remember what happened after the Cubs last acquired a closing pitcher during the season, a World Series victory. Back in 2016, the Cubs traded four players: Adam Warren and prospects, Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford to the Yankees for a man named Aroldis Chapman. In 28 games for the Cubs, he went 1-1 with a 1.01 ERA and 16 saves leading the cubs into the playoffs and eventually, a championship.
After a year of Wade Davis as the closer in 2017, they turned to Brandon Morrow to get the job done. Morrow finished 2018 with 22 saves, which gave the Cubs a positive look into the 2019 season. However, Morrow was shut down in April and has not been on the mound this season. Fast forward to last week when the talks of top pitching free agents Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel started to heat up. Every Cub fan knew that a closing pitcher was a much-needed piece to a bullpen that struggled with giving up runs and injuries.
On June 6th, the Cubs signed Kimbrel to a three year, $43 million deal, a signing that adds depth to the bullpen. Last season as the Red Sox closer, he was 5-1 with a 2.74 ERA and 42 saves. Lifetime, he is 31-19 with a 1.91 ERA and 333 saves. As of June 13th, the Cubs bullpen ranks seventh in the league in blown saves with 12 in 27 save opportunities. The team also ranks 24th in save percentage with 55.56% so the Kimbrel signing can definitely help these numbers. It will be interesting to see who moves where and how Manager Joe Maddon will use the other arms in the bullpen like current closer Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, who just was injured during warm-ups yesterday in Colorado, Carl Edwards Jr, who was placed on the 10-Day IL today, and eventually, Brandon Morrow if he returns to the bullpen. One name that has surprised me this season coming out of the bullpen is Brandon Kintzler, a relief pitcher who came to the Cubs last season from Washington. He currently posts a 2.51 ERA in 28 games, and I believe he could be a big piece if the injury bug continues to hit the bullpen.
Chicago Tribune writer Mark Gonzales said, “Kimbrel will throw live batting practice Thursday.” If all goes well with today’s session we should see him head to Iowa to get a few in-game opportunities, and I expect to see Kimbrel back in the majors before the All-Star break. These next three weeks leading up to the mid-season classic will be a true test for this Cubs ball club, as they open up a four game set with the first place Dodgers tonight and facing the Atlanta Braves, who lead the east as of right now, in Wrigley starting the 24th. This series with the Dodgers could be a potential NLCS matchup come October.
I know it is only June and the Cubs have plenty of opportunities to get back in the race for the NL Central, however I think this is a huge series for the Cubs. The key matchup I am looking forward to is the pitching matchup in game one between Jon Lester and Clayton Kershaw. Two big, tough left-hander’s battling it out in LA. If the Cubs can win three games or even sweep the series against the Dodgers, the second half of the season would shape out to be something fun. The Cubs do not see the central division leading Brewers until July 26th in Milwaukee, then back in Chicago on August 2nd. I would hope to see a healthy bullpen with Kimbrel in mid-season form by the time we see the Brewers twice in one week.