The 8th inning did the Cubs in again yesterday, which is not so much the product of an inning being imbued with dark magic, but is instead a reflection of how much trouble the Cubs have had getting consistent production from their setup men this year.
Lately, the biggest issues have come from Carl Edwards Jr., whose stuff is almost literally unhittable, except when he has no idea where it’s going – which has been the case going on a month now. Since his meltdown against the Nationals in Washington at the end of June, Edwards has posted an 8.78 ERA with an unthinkable 24.6% BB rate.
The command troubles manifest themselves not only in the walk rate, but also in exactly what happened with the Matt Wieters grand slam. He got a hanging curveball on the outer half, waited back on it, and blasted it to center. If he was gearing up and ready for a 96 mph cutting fastball in the zone, he’s not able to sit back and abuse the curveball like that. But it looked pretty clear to me that his approach was simple: spit on the fastball, because Edwards can’t keep it in the zone, and then sit on the curveball. Mission accomplished.
The high-leverage moments especially seem to be getting to Edwards, which made it something of an unnerving surprise to see him called upon in the 8th yesterday with the tying run already on base.
Why did Joe Maddon do it? Well, as usual in these situations, it’s not as if he didn’t have any reasons. The biggest one – and the one people were most vocally asking about – was that Hector Rondon was going to pitch the 9th inning, with Wade Davis unavailable (CSN). Maybe you prefer Rondon had been used there for the heart of the Nationals order, even if he was the “closer” for the day, but at least I understand the thinking by Maddon. Koji Uehara was getting warmed up behind Edwards as the back-up plan, but I can understand Maddon not being quick to make a switch, given that Uehara has had struggles of his own (5.40 ERA since the break).
I’ll add that Pedro Strop had thrown 21 pitches the day before, so I could understand him not getting up as the back-up-back-up plan. Justin Wilson had thrown 22 pitches the day before, and hasn’t been quite on since coming to the Cubs. Brian Duensing was probably available (he threw 12 pitches the day before), but if you’re matching up and you pull Edwards after he gave up that first double to Ryan Zimmerman, than you were going to have a lefty facing Anthony Rendon anyway. Again, I understand all of this, even if I think there’s reasonable debate in all of it.
For me, the mistake was not necessarily in holding Rondon back for the 9th. Instead, I would have liked to have seen Mike Montgomery simply keep going in the 8th. Although it came across parts of two innings, Montgomery had thrown just nine pitches, netting a fly out, a strike out, and a soft grounder. Yes, Montgomery has strong splits this year, but not for his career. Further, after Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals had Daniel Murphy, who strikes out twice as often against lefties as against righties.
Even if you didn’t like the Montgomery match-ups, don’t you feel a little more confident with him in the game at that moment than bringing Edwards into an inning with a runner already on base, and the heart of the order looming?
Given Edwards’ recent struggles, this isn’t a matter of hindsight being 20/20. It felt like the wrong situation to put in a scuffling Edwards, and it was. The hope there was that Edwards would get out of a high-leverage spot, get some confidence back, and turn the corner. But hope is not a strategy. Get the young man some clean, low-leverage innings, and go from there. Maddon himself said it after the game (CSN): “When he got the bases cleared, it was just kinda like back to old CJ. Just a matter of getting him out there, getting him pitching and getting that confidence back.” In other words, when the pressure was off and it was a clean inning, Edwards was fine.
I suspect we’ll see Edwards used next in a lower-leverage spot – maybe multiple lower-leverage spots. It’s a bummer that he’s going through this patch, but the talent is plenty good enough to keep trying to get him back on track.
The good news for the Cubs is that, if Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon keep looking good, and if Justin Wilson pitches like he has for most of his career, the team won’t necessarily need Edwards in high-leverage spots right now.
Of course, with his ability, you’d sure like to see him get back on track by the end of September.