Yesterday, it hit me like a ton of bricks: Brandon Morrow’s season is over. Part of me wanted to laugh, part of me cry. And I was definitely a little angry. I don’t blame anybody, of course, but it feels like the tenth time this season we’ve watched a critical, injured Cubs player find himself on the doorstep of a return … just as the floor drops out beneath him.
It sucks. It’s a fan thing.
If you recall, Brandon Morrow’s last pitch was thrown in the first-half of the season. After that, a myriad of injuries to his throwing arm (biceps, bone bruise, stress reaction in his elbow) kept him on the disabled list and our hopes relatively low. But as a late-season, pre-playoffs return was teased, we rejoiced.
And why not? The rehab was finally going well and at just the right time. Not only had Morrow made it through two bullpen sessions and a simulated game, he was going to return just as his replacement, Pedro Strop, hit the disabled list, himself. Perfect, right?
Well, no. Not perfect. Groin punch:
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) September 18, 2018
So what happened? How did we go from “He might return before the end of the Diamondbacks series!” to “He’s done.”? Well, according to Morrow (via Cubs.com), he did feel OK during the simulated game. However, he “probably got a little overconfident with it …. The next morning was when I knew things were going in the wrong way. I woke up feeling the same as I was a couple months ago. Yesterday was tough. It sucks.”
Theo Epstein added a little more context, stating that although they were legitimately hopeful, “every time he pitched, it got worse.” It was apparently really bad for Morrow behind the scenes:
Here's an idea of how improbable Brandon Morrow anchoring the #Cubs bullpen in October would have been: He said he felt a grabbing sensation in his right elbow/biceps while doing everyday things like reaching for his cup of coffee.
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) September 19, 2018
Pretty reminiscent of Yu Darvish’s private experience with a stress reaction all season, eh? For what it’s worth, Darvish ultimately had a cleanup procedure in his elbow recently.
From the sound of things, Morrow saw another specialist yesterday just before the plug was pulled, which, again … just so much more painful, given how soon we expected him back. And although it certainly doesn’t make me feel any better, I’ll point out that he is, indeed, expected to be ready for Spring Training 2019.
As for the implication of not having an elite reliever available in the postseason, well, I’m not going to lie to you: this is pretty bad.
Perhaps, with Strop still around and the bullpen firing on all cylinders, the Cubs could’ve skated into the postseason and navigated around the non-closing, high-leverage innings like a tightrope walker in a thunderstorm, but without even Strop in there to eliminate some concern, things are so much tighter. So I guess here’s hoping – desperately – that his optimism about a return before the end of the regular season is well-founded.
The Cubs will also need Carl Edwards Jr. to find the strike zone, because he has seven walks in his last 4.0 IP and he’s essentially, now, the most dominant arm in the pen *when he’s on.* Until that happens, though, the Cubs will continue to lean on Jesse Chavez, Steve Cishek, and Justin Wilson as their primary “big-moment” arms.
From a roster perspective, the Cubs could now place Morrow on the 60-day disabled list and add another reliever – like Allen Webster, perhaps? – if they wanted.
From a longer-term roster perspective, although Morrow is expected back at full strength for Spring Training, it’s going to be very difficult for the front office to pass up a very, very full crop of interesting, high-end relief arms this offseason. At a minimum, maybe it means bringing Justin Wilson back. Or maybe it means going after a guy like Andrew Miller or Zach Britton – elite, elite guys who have dealt with injuries that may depress their market a bit.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.