Last Night Could Have Happened Regardless of the Bullpen Construction … And That Ain't Good

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Last Night Could Have Happened Regardless of the Bullpen Construction … And That Ain’t Good

Chicago Cubs

There’s a frustrating volume of stuff to touch on from last night’s blown game, but one thing I wanted to make sure to touch on first thing this morning is a perspective on what the loss says about the bullpen.

Two things are true, in my mind:

The Cubs did not aggressively address the bullpen in the offseason to account for the very real struggles and injuries that materialized last year, instead preferring a (cheaper) volume approach and resting on internal options. That approach necessarily left them exposed to the risk that their late-inning options, especially while Brandon Morrow is out, would cause problems.

Last night could very easily have happened regardless of what the Cubs had done to address the bullpen in the offseason.

The way I’m thinking about it is this: I’m as chapped as anyone that Carl Edwards Jr. just can’t seem to throw strikes when a guy reaches base, and then served up the most hit-me-I’m-free 92 mph fastball to Joey Gallo (of all dang hitters) to lose the game last night (or, well, to finish up losing the game – let’s not let Yu Darvish off the hook). Edwards failed, badly, and when a late-inning reliever fails badly, you lose the game. But Edwards was always going to make this bullpen, so the opportunities to “blow” games like that were always going to be there, regardless of whether Craig Kimbrel was lurking for the 9th or not.

Oh, but Pedro Strop could have been in the 8th, you say? Yes, of course. But games can be blown in the 7th, too. Or 6th. Maybe not last night’s game, specifically, but this is a Carl Edwards Jr. issue, not an overall bullpen construction issue.

That is to say, I don’t really lay last night’s loss, specifically, at the feet of the front office’s questionable bullpen approach. Instead, I lay it at the age old feet of figuring out what you have in certain relievers. We know that Edwards is inconsistent, with the potential to be among the best in the game, and also the risk of being among the most maddening. He was always going to get these kinds of chances early in the season. The potential is too great not to see how he’s gonna perform.

So, then, with this mostly a question of Edwards’ utility, the balance is going to be just how long the Cubs can go giving him high-leverage innings, letting him work through things, if the performance isn’t there.

Last night, Edwards’ control was non-existent (his velocity was down, too), and it led to a walk and this:

I think we also need to acknowledge that Edwards’ control – I’m not even talking command at this point, because it’s worse than that –  left him with several months to go in 2018. He had 12 WALKS in his final 11 APPEARANCES last year. His walk rate after AUGUST 5 was 22.5%!

Edwards has always had control problems, which was at the heart of his move to the bullpen in the first place, and is also the reason he wanted to try out the hesitation delivery this offseason (he said, essentially, it helped keep him square). Of course, you can’t use that delivery when runners reach base, and you can’t just let your control fall apart every time a runner reaches base.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Edwards will get some more leash, both because his talent merits it and because the nature of this bullpen demands it. He can be very, very good, and the Cubs pretty much need him to be very, very good. But, even as I say a loss like last night could have happened regardless of who else the Cubs had in the bullpen, unfortunately, nothing that happened last night was outside the realm of predictable either.

Oh, and if Edwards cannot get it back together in the coming weeks, that’s when the decisions made in constructing the bullpen will really be put to the test. That quality depth the Cubs believe they’ve built at AAA? We’ll see. Edwards, it should be noted, does have a minor league option year remaining. I’m not being reactionary yet, but I do think that’s important to note.

(But, I mean, if they want to surprise everyone and just pony up for Craig Kimbrel, it’s not like I’d complain.)

Same, Carl. Same:

Here’s hoping Carl deploys his anger in a more productive way than I did last night.



Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.