The Bullpen: You Can’t Live with Them, and That’s About It

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July 4, 2013 by Ryan S

I posted this earlier on Bleacher Nation in response to an enhanced box score by the lead writer there.  In my eyes, manager Dale Sveum keeping Matt Garza in through the eight inning yesterday is more a reflection of the enigma that is the Cubs bullpen and less about trying to prove that Garza is healthy and valuable.

“I don’t think that keeping Garza in for the 8th had much to do with showcasing him for other teams. I’m a huge believer in the idea that Sveum just doesn’t know who to go to as a setup man in the bullpen at this point.

The Cubs have won three series in a row, and now are 7-4 in their last 11 games. In those 4 they’ve lost: Kevin Gregg surrenders a run in the top 9th and the Cubs lose 4-3; The Cubs take a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the 8th and squander a Travis Wood start (again), losing 5-4 in 10; and the obvious 8-7 loss to the A’s the other day.

The bullpen struggles haven’t just been the usual suspects, either. James Russell has given up seven ER on 16 H in his past 8.2 innings of work. Blake Parker has given up a run in three of his past four appearances. These guys are supposed to be his late inning guys.

Obviously, there has been a lot of turnover in the pitching staff thus far. Fujikawa is on the DL, Marmol and Camp have just been DFA’d and the former traded, and the Cubs have added Pedro Strop and Matt Guerrier.

The pen looks like: Hector Rondon, Russell, Parker, Strop, Guerrier, Henry Rodriguez and Gregg. Villanueva is likely going to take Feldman’s spot in the rotation for now. The point being that:
1) Rondon is a Rule 5 draft guy and has to stay on the roster (like Lendy Castillo last season) and has been largely ineffective this season (6.08 ERA, 1.46 WHIP),
2) Strop and Guerrier have both just been added in the past couple days and are in the midst of not-so-great seasons,
3) Sveum hasn’t even used Rodriguez since Jun. 23, so I think it’s safe to say he won’t be using him in any close game/late inning situations in the near future and
4) the aforementioned Russell and Parker struggles.

With Gregg’s value up so high right now, I doubt they’re going to try and use him for too many saves of more than an inning, and Sveum likely feels like he doesn’t have a lot of good options out of the pen.

Regardless, Garza pitched exceedingly well against a good club for eight innings over 114 pitches, showing that he’s dominant and healthy, and probably sealing the deal that he’s the number one pitcher available as of right now for the trade deadline.”

First of all, the gamble will likely pay off, assuming that Garza stays healthy.  He’ll likely have three or four more starts before being traded, and this will show other teams that Garza is likely healthy and able to go deep into ball games.

As for why Garza had to go deep into the ball game yesterday, I’m obviously not in Sveum’s head, but here’s what he had to say about Russell after the 8-7 loss on Tuesday night:

“He can’t get [anything] down in the strike zone.  His changeup’s either short or hung and he can’t spot a fastball down and away. It’s basically just no location. Obviously, the confidence probably isn’t too good right now. It’s almost comical to see this happen every single night.  We have a lead and get beat sometimes by guys that are hardly even hitting home runs. [Derek Norris] has had one at-bat off a left-hander in 15 days and he beats us with a three-run homer.”

It really has gotten to the point of being ridiculous, and Sveum has lost it.  It’s hard to blame him, honestly.  You can’t blame a manager for using his reliable arms in the bullpen when his starters are worn out, and if they can’t hold the lead, well it shouldn’t necessarily be on him.  And Russell has arguably been the Cubs most reliable reliever for the past two seasons.  If Sveum can’t trust Russell, he probably is lacking faith in the bullpen as a whole.  So, the Cubs sit at 36-46.

There are obviously the bright spots, for example, winning three series’ in a row, but they take a back seat to the perpetual struggles that plague this squad.  When one thing is going well, another is going poorly.  It’s the story of the 2013 Cubs.  On a small plus-side, the Cubs are currently on pace for a 71-91 win season, which is a 10 game improvement over 2012 (yay?).

That’s all I’ve got for now, but as always, go Cubs!

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