Chicago Cubs' Bullpen Trying to Get Better

By Nick Schaeflein
Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

After remaking the bullpen for the 2014 season, the Chicago Cubs‘ worst fear was getting off to a slow start and experience bullpen troubles. Unfortunately, that fear has come true in the first few weeks of the season. However, since a change has been made at the closer’s spot, the bullpen bunch for the Cubs is trying to get better slowly but surely.

In looking into the numbers, it is very apparent why Chicago was hoping to have better bullpen fortunes during the 2014 season. In 2012, the Cubs’ staff had 21 blown saves. That total was good for the seventh most in the league and a 57 save percentage. Last season, the Cubs had 26 blown saves which was the fourth most in the league and a 60 save percentage. Thus far in 2014, they have already let three games get away with a 40 save percentage. Even after the Cubs brought in Jose Veras on a one-year deal to be the closer, manager Rick Renteria can be applauded for making an early-season change before the year got too far away. With little room for error, Chicago cannot afford to let leads get away late in games.

Through the team’s first 10 games, Chicago had allowed 23 runs in the seventh inning or later, and just 16 runs in the first six innings. The bullpen has been surrendering several good quality starts posted by the starting rotation early on. Inexplicably, the team has struggled in trying to close out games and get the final three outs for a victory. These struggles are now into Year 3 with limited signs of encouragement.

With Veras now temporarily removed as the closer, there are a few options who can be considered for the near future. However, the Cubs would just rather have consistent save opportunities and figure it out from there. The alternative of playing from behind and not being able to set up a winning bullpen is not leading to many victories either.

Pedro Strop is the likely new successor for the closer role, but he too has not been as sharp as he would like. Hector Rondon has yet to allow a run this season, but the inexperience within the role may hold him back at this time. While he has been vocal about getting an opportunity to start, Justin Grimm would be wise to also be open to a chance at closing out games. Grimm has been good all season, has multiple out-pitches and could adjust to the role if given a full opportunity to succeed.

After a few adjustments, the Cubs’ bullpen is trying to turn the corner. As a whole, they have allowed just one run in their last 5.2 innings pitched. But again, that has been during a stretch where the team has been playing from behind late in games. The true test for the bullpen will be to consistently hold leads when given the ball, and close out games before it takes extra innings to complete. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done.

Nick Schaeflein is a Chicago Cubs writer for Follow him on Twitter @ptchr2424 or add him to your network on Google.

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