The bar is relatively low, but last night, that was absolutely the best we’ve seen Craig Kimbrel pitch in a Chicago Cubs uniform.
For the first time with the Cubs, he actually looked like Craig Kimbrel.
In picking up last night’s save, Kimbrel struck out the side, allowing only one baserunner on a hit by pitch (because the knuckle curve moved too dang much!). He looked fantastic throughout the appearance.
I think you could say he looked this good his last time out, too, but that was a one-run deficit, earlier in the game. This was a real save situation, against a division rival, in the decisive game of a five-game series. No, the pressure isn’t the same as the postseason, but it was ratcheted up considerably. And Kimbrel looked like the guy we knew from the Braves, Padres, and Red Sox. The guy who was on a Hall of Fame trajectory before last season’s weirdness and injuries and ineffectiveness made everyone question whether someone so good could fall so far so fast.
Last night, Kimbrel was a guy with a 97-99 mph fastball that he could locate up or down. He was a guy with a knuckle curve with absurd movement. He was a guy with explosive life on the fastball, in addition to the velocity. He was a guy who could throw the curve in for a strike, or bury it. And most importantly, he was clearly a guy who left batters with no clue what he was about to throw.
We can’t say for absolute certain that Kimbrel is definitely back, in perpetuity, to being CRAIG KIMBREL, but for that appearance? He very clearly was.
Now we wait to see what comes next for Kimbrel and the Cubs. David Ross wasn’t going to declare anything after the game, but it’s hard for me to imagine NOT wanting Kimbrel to get the next save opportunity.
“Craig Kimbrel is a good option at the back end of our bullpen,” Ross told Cubs.com. “I don’t know how many times I have to say that. We’re going to try to match everybody up the best we can. But I have no hesitation, as I’ve said before, of going to Craig.”
When it was pointed out that Kimbrel is a seven-time all-star former closer, Ross had a quip: