Cubs Bullpen Thoughts Aplenty, Rucker, Pelham, Kimbrel, Miley, Ortega, Reyes, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Cubs Bullpen Thoughts Aplenty, Rucker, Pelham, Kimbrel, Miley, Ortega, Reyes, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

The kids have their first day of school, which always brings the range of emotions. Time just keeps on marching. I’m really proud of all three of them, and that’s what I’ll try to hang onto most today, in between swallowed sobs.

  • The Cubs saw great outings last night from Michael Rucker, Brandon Hughes, and Mark Leiter Jr., all of whom have seen increased late-inning work following the Trade Deadline for obvious reasons. The Cubs had the best bullpen ERA in baseball in July, and have stepped back to middle-of-the-pack in August. That said, I do like that these guys are getting this time, which will help the Cubs sort out some role planning for next year (i.e., someone like Hughes, who is definitely going to be a key arm), and some roster planning for the offseason (i.e., guys like Rucker and Leiter, whom the Cubs may have on the fence for 40-man roster decisions).
  • Special shout to Rucker, whose bad outings have come in such highly-visible moments that I think some have the wrong idea about his ability. When he’s good – like last night – he flashes a good four-seamer that reaches 96 mph and a hard slider at 88 mph that behaves more like a really brutal cutter. In his 15 pitches last night, he got five whiffs, four of ’em on that slider. It’s a great pitch when paired with that four-seamer. Leiter’s changeup, too, is a great pitch now that I think of it, and he was showing it a lot last night for whiffs. Them being on the 40-man bubble this offseason is going to be so much more about the extreme depth on that side than about their ability. They are big league pitchers, or at LEAST quality up-down guys. (Contrast them with just-optioned Anderson Espinoza, who has not yet shown me that same big-league-caliber stuff.)
  • Wade Miley threw five effective innings at Iowa last night, so you’ve gotta assume he’s coming back to the big league team the next time through the rotation. The Cubs might use it as an opportunity to go to a six-man, or could use it to skip a start here and there for Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele as they blow past their career highs in innings. It’s also not impossible that the Cubs waive Drew Smyly to open up innings and save some cash (he’s got a buyout coming on his mutual option after the season, which he’s definitely not going to exercise, so he’s hitting free agency no matter what).
  • The reliever promotion chain bumped Zac Leigh from South Bend to Tennessee, and CD Pelham from Tennessee to Iowa. We’ve heard a lot about Leigh this year – his stuff rates very highly and his results have been outstanding – but not much about Pelham, who you might recall has been with the Cubs for years but hasn’t actually PITCHED in the org until this year.
  • Last appearing in pro baseball back in 2019 with the Rangers, Pelham has been working on various rehabs in Arizona with the Cubs, and finally debuted at Double-A in late May. After a couple hiccups initially, he’s dominated since early June: 2.20 ERA, 27.4% K, 10.6% BB, with at least one strikeout in every single outing except one. Given his age (27) and his fastball (potentially triple digits), I am sure the Cubs wanted to get a look at Pelham facing Triple-A batters for as long as possible before the end of the season. He is due to be a minor league free agent if he’s not added to the 40-man roster or signed to a successor contract before that (but, if the latter, he’ll be Rule 5 eligible).
  • And you’re perhaps thinking through that whole bullet, “Man, I feel like I haven’t heard about Pelham at all this year, so how is it that he’s a legit guy who is pitching well and should be on my radar?” The answer, of course, is that the Cubs just have SO MANY legit relief prospects right now. At every level. Tons and tons of guys who really do have big league potential, which is not always the case, even among relievers. You want tons and tons of IMPACT starters and positional starters, of course, but it’s never bad to have this kind of assembly line of relievers.
  • Speaking of relievers, and how you still want to take your low-cost shots in free agency … It has been a rough year for Craig Kimbrel in LA (he blew another one last night), but his peripherals remain so much better than his results (the BABIP is near .400 despite the contact not being THAT good). All I can think about is (1) how the last place where he was his dominant self was back with the Cubs last year, and (2) the Cubs have a track record of bouncing back formerly great relievers. So, yeah, I’m already very much thinking about the Cubs adding him to their bullpen this offseason when he’s a free agent. He’s exactly the kind of guy the Cubs have picked up on modest one-year deals, and then they’ve exploded.
  • I think Bryan makes a good point here, and I have an additional one:
  • For me, the bigger issue with continuing to start Ortega almost every day is that we already know by now that he’s a virtual lock to not stay on the 40-man all offseason. So that means it serves very little giving him those starts (it’s not like he’s helping the Cubs win games, which does have value, as Nico Hoerner pointed out). Just let Nelson Velazquez and Christopher Morel take those starts, and/or heck, let Ian Happ get back out there to see if he’s still passable.
  • Speaking of Reyes, it’s fun to me that he has increased his wRC+ by a full 10 points (69 to 79) in just a single August week with the Cubs.
  • How much does nobody know the balk rules? Even when the pitcher does the most balk-iest thing he can possibly do, the umps still have to conference:
  • That is the definition of an intentional balk, and both times it was like, “uh, wait, is that … do we … I think maybe … OK, yes, yeah, that’s a balk, I see it now!” (Also, Alex Bregman both times, eh? I guess teams think the Astros are still doing their thing, even in the PitchCom era. That’s pretty interesting, isn’t it? Maybe it’s not sign-stealing, but is pitch-tipping based on how the pitcher holds his hands pre-pitch?)
  • Obviously the teams can’t do this for athletes in their own sports (right?), but this is a cool way to support Chicago athletes, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cubs get into it:

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.