Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

neil ramirez moundPresently, the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen is a robust eight-members strong, and looks like this:

Jason Motte
Hector Rondon
Pedro Strop
Justin Grimm
Travis Wood
James Russell
Rafael Soriano
Neil Ramirez

Were you evaluating that pen in a simplistic way, right now, you would probably say you feel good about Rondon, Grimm, and Wood (3.12 ERA, 2.55 FIP, 3.55 xFIP in 34.2 relief innings this year for Wood, by the way). I would add Strop in that group, myself, though I understand some of you would not.

I mostly feel OK about Motte, even as a late-inning guy – he pounds the zone, and, until lately, didn’t give up much hard contact; I’m just not enthused about him being “the closer,” especially in one-run games. He simply doesn’t strike enough guys out. Lots of contact can lead to lots of trouble in close games at critical times.

Russell, when employed as a LOOGY, is fine. The problem for him has been that the starters have been blown up so much lately, and the relievers so taxed, that he hasn’t always been used that way.

Soriano hasn’t had much time with the Cubs yet, but what he’s shown has been uninspiring, to say the least. It isn’t just the ugly results in a small sample; his fastball doesn’t have much life, and frequently misses up in the zone. His slider does not look particularly compelling. Is there time for him to warm up after such a long layoff? I suppose, yes. But it was a low-cost investment for a reason.

And then there’s Ramirez. One of the Cubs’ bullpen stars last year, Ramirez has mostly been a lost arm this year thanks to April shoulder trouble from which it looks like he’s never really recovered. As we’ve noted here just about every time Ramirez has pitched – in extremely low-leverage situations, by the way – his fastball velocity is still way down, his breaking pitches don’t look like they did last year, and he hasn’t been getting any whiffs. Something just hasn’t looked right.

Joe Maddon says that, in fact, Ramirez hasn’t been available to pitch since Saturday (CSN, ESPN). Describing Ramirez only as “not OK,” Maddon indicated after last night’s game that he would await more information before saying anything further.

It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that Ramirez is going to need another disabled list stint, but we’ll cross that bridge when the Cubs get there. There are some interesting guys at AAA – Carl Edwards, Jr., Armando Rivero, Ben Rowen – that the Cubs could tap to come up, but I’m not sure they’re ready. There’s also Tsuyoshi Wada and Clayton Richard, though each has been starting and might be needed soon as the fifth starter if the Cubs don’t make a trade.

And that’s the other option for the bullpen: a trade. Things sure would feel more comfortable back there with one more solid back-end-type arm.

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