Effectively tied for first place in the National League Central, having won or split every series of the season so far, it is hard to find things to complain about with this year’s Chicago Cubs team.
And yet, one has to look only to the bullpen to realize what is quickly becoming the Cubs’ Achilles heel.
“Our bullpen situation,” Piniella said, pausing, “is our bullpen situation.”
In the three games of the abbreviated series against the Cardinals, none of the Cubs starters got a decision. The bullpen totaled 11 innings, including five on Saturday.
“Our bullpen could use a break, there’s no question about that,” Piniella said. cubs.com.
A great deal of the bullpen’s use has been of its own design: it is not as if the starters are going three innings day after day. In large part, the bullpen has been taxed because of its own inability to get outs.
The sole lefty in the pen, Neal Cotts, has struggled more than anyone else. And that ain’t good.
Neal Cotts definitely appreciated the extra day off. Opposing teams are batting .364 against the lefty, and he has walked four and given up four hits in 2 2/3 innings over seven games. He walked the only two batters he faced on Saturday.
“[Saturday] was just ugly,” Cotts said. “They could’ve brought in anybody out of the stands to do what I did yesterday. It’s one to forget about and move on.”
He doesn’t think his status as the only lefty in the pen has anything to do with his early struggles.
“I haven’t warmed up any more than usual or anything of that nature,” Cotts said. “I just haven’t done the job when I’ve gotten in there. I just haven’t given myself a chance. I’ve been throwing all over the plate.”
He didn’t plan on spending Sunday night watching any additional video.
“It’s a matter of taking a breath, a deep breath, and relaxing a little bit and getting the ball over there,” Cotts said. “I feel strong and confident and everything like that.”
“We need for Cotts to throw strikes,” Piniella said. “He’s faced nine hitters and walked six of them. He’s certainly a lot better than what he’s pitched.”
In Saturday’s game, Cotts faced two batters and walked them both without throwing a single strike.
Piniella’s ire with the pen is palpable, even if he doesn’t blow up about it. It feels as though the only guy he trusts in critical situations is – surprise – Carlos Marmol. But Marmol cannot have another season like last year, where he led the league in relief innings, without risking damage to his arm before the playoffs.