Total BS: Searching for Solutions as Cubs Bullpen Gives Away Another Late Lead

The Cubs bullpen is apparently being produced by DJ Khaled, because they blew another one last night. Another save, that is, making it 14 on the season for a unit that caught more than a little side-eye from observers heading into the season. Only the White Sox (19) have given away more late leads, though the Tigers and Pirates are tied with the Cubs. Doesn’t look like the Central divisions will be able to offer much back-end help to competitive teams at the deadline.

Héctor Neris was the perpetrator Tuesday night against the Rays by giving up four runs on a walk and three hits, the last of which was a three-run bomb from Brandon Lowe. That surname rhymes with “ow,” though maybe a better example would be Eric Show because watching this bullpen makes fans angry enough to charge the mound like Andre Dawson. After sitting out the high end of the reliever market, the 34-year-old Neris was the Cubs’ highest-profile addition on that front during the offseason.

Most people seemed to be good with the move in a vacuum, but that was based on the idea that he’d work the 7th or be a setup man. While Neris has now racked up 98 saves in his career, he no longer misses enough bats to be trusted as an everyday closer. The erosion in his strikeout percentage has been occurring for a few years now and it’s become a landslide this season as he’s down to 22.0% after being at 28.2% last season.

What’s more, Neris is walking batters at a career-high 16.5% clip. That’s the 13th-highest among 482 pitchers with at least 10 innings this season and sixth-highest out of 368 pitchers with 20 innings under their belts. For what it’s worth, Aroldis Chapman leads both samples with an atrocious 21.6% walk rate. In addition to his 18 walks, Neris has surrendered 21 hits in 24.2 innings, with his saving grace being that only two of those knocks cleared the fence.

Thing is, Neris was never supposed to be in this role. The job of closing games was initially given to Adbert Alzolay, who coughed up five games as he struggled with his command and saw six of the 19 hits he gave up in 17.1 innings go for homers. He’s now on the 60-day IL with a right forearm strain and has just worked up to playing catch from 60 feet, so it’ll be a while before he’ll be back in any capacity.

The Cubs have seen two other pitchers record saves this year, but both Yency Almonte and Daniel Palencia are on the IL. Almonte recently threw a bullpen in Arizona and could be ready for a rehab outing before too long. Palencia left his June 5 outing with a trainer and updates have been sparse since, which isn’t a good sign.

Ben Brown was discussed as a possibility — at least among fans — before he was pressed back into rotation work, and now he’s back in Chicago having a lingering neck strain checked out. Cade Horton could have been used as a reliever to leverage his elite stuff while still limiting his innings, though he is likewise shut down with a lat strain. Even though Ethan Roberts is working on a scoreless streak in Iowa, it’s doubtful the Cubs would throw him right into the fire just yet.

Of the five other pitchers who have blown saves for the Cubs this season, four are still in the organization and could get additional chances if Craig Counsell starts grasping for a lifeline. Richard Lovelady is no longer an option and Drew Smyly isn’t working the 9th unless things have really gone sideways, so we’re looking at Mark Leiter Jr., Hayden Wesneski, or Colten Brewer. I think we can eliminate Brewer, so, given the differences in their strikeout and home run rates, I’d lean toward Leiter.

Given their record and the overall lack of supply, it doesn’t seem like swinging a big trade for a closer is in the realm of possibility. Besides, Jed Hoyer recently said the answers to his club’s struggles have to be internal.

That leaves him with a case of the lady or the tiger because none of the available choices seem ideal, but there aren’t many options other than rolling with Neris and making sure you have a healthy supply of Tums on hand. Unless…no. Would they really?

Carl Edwards Jr. leads the I-Cubs with seven saves this season and has a great deal of experience in the big leagues, mainly with the Cubs. Though he’s issued 14 walks and given up 20 hits in 23.1 innings, he’s struck out 22 and has allowed just one homer. Not ideal for a team that was supposed to have been playing competitive baseball, but desperate times and whatnot.

Back to top button