Cubs Turn Boos to Cheers After Drama-Free Win Tuesday Night, Just Don’t Expect New Closer

What a difference a day makes. The Cubs were booed off the field Monday night after one of their worst losses in a season that has already featured several of them. It was the 17th they came out on the wrong end of their 30 total one-run games and it came, of course, as a result of the bullpen blowing a late lead. Even accounting for all the injuries and unmet expectations, it’s hard to give Craig Counsell a free pass for his team’s struggles in tight games.

Where you do have to hand it to Counsell is that he’s maintained a very calm, consistent demeanor throughout the process. That includes taking the reaction to Monday’s loss in stride.

“Fans are…they’re emotional, and that’s fine,” Counsell said after the implosion. “That’s part of buying the ticket is you get that privilege. So, I don’t think it feels good. There’s no question it doesn’t feel good. But it’s been a tough stretch and you’re voicing your displeasure, and that’s okay.”

It would have been very easy for the manager to take an us-versus-them approach, especially since he’s new in the role and has a keen awareness of Cubs fans’ animosity toward him in the past. Other skippers have gone that route in the past and it rarely works out well, so it’s good to see Counsell embracing this for what it is and trying to move forward.

However, I’m not sure the same can be said for how he’s handling the bullpen. Tyson Miller and Keegan Thompson combined for seven outs with no hits or walks allowed to lock down the win after Justin Steele went 6.2 innings with just two runs surrendered. Thompson was particularly impressive, striking out the side in the 9th thanks to a nasty sweeper/cutter combo that generated two called strikes and three whiffs.

The energy in the ballpark was a total reversal of the night before as fans reacted to the win almost like it was meaningful. That was more a matter of relief from not having to sweat out a series of walks and hits in the 9th inning, but there was also a sense that maybe they’d found a new closer. That’s pretty obviously not the case, though it was nice to see a relatively drama-free game for what felt like the first time in forever even though it was really just three days.

Despite four blown saves, the worst strikeout and walk rates of his career, and peripheral stats that say his 4.73 ERA is much better than it should be, Héctor Neris is still the primary closer.

“Héctor has been in that role,” Counsell told reporters after the game. “Hector’s going to need to continue to be in that role for us, to me, to manage the games and to put the guys down there in the best position to succeed.”

This falls right in line with Jed Hoyer saying the answers need to come from within, which is to say there are too many issues to fix with trades if current members of the roster don’t get their shit together posthaste. We can direct blame however we see fit, but the horses all got out of the barn long ago and it’s a waste of time to bicker over who left the door unlatched.

Assuming they’re not in the market for a big-time reliever, there is a move the Cubs could make to add heat and whiffs to the bullpen. Hunter Bigge has always put up impressive strikeout numbers and he’s continuing that in limited action at Triple-A Iowa this season with the use of two different sliders. He’ll need a 40-man spot, but a team that needs bullpen help could do worse than seeing what Bigge can do.

There’s also Ethan Roberts, who was just added to the roster at the expense of José Cuas. That decision effectively came down to Roberts or Carl Edwards Jr., both of whom had the ability to opt out of their minor league deals on June 15 if they had not been added. The Stringbean Slinger was released this past Sunday, presumably ending his attempt to make it back to Chicago.

Given the way things have gone so far, a great number of fans just want to feel like the Cubs are actually trying. I’m not saying the organization doesn’t care or want to win, but it’s all too easy to believe they aren’t doing everything in their power to turn things around. Is change for the sake of change a great strategy? No, but it does at least give the perception of making an attempt.

This is all a moot point if they can just start winning more frequently, so let’s hope that happens and people can stop wondering when they’re going to replace the entire active roster with prospects.

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