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The Cubs really hurt themselves over the weekend by carrying 9 relievers

An entire four-game series went by with this bloated bullpen.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Just so you know straight away, this isn’t a “get off my lawn” post lamenting the old days of five- or six-man bullpens. I know those days are long gone, in the words of Montgomery Gentry:

Gone like a freight-train, gone like yesterday
Gone like a soldier in the civil war, bang bang
Gone like a '59 Cadillac
Like all the good things that ain't never coming back

In case you haven’t been to Cubs spring training at Sloan Park, that’s the song played whenever a Cub hits a home run.

Anyway: I know the minimum seven-man bullpen is a must these days in the era of specialized bullpens, relievers who aren’t trained to go more than one inning and starters who, many times, don’t go more than six.

I looked up all 30 teams’ 25-man rosters late Sunday. Here’s how many relievers every team was carrying as of Sunday’s games:

Cubs: 9
Cardinals: 8
Reds: 8
Brewers: 8
Diamondbacks: 8
Rockies: 8
Mets: 8
Marlins: 8
Braves: 8
Dodgers: 8
Giants: 8
Mariners: 8
Athletics: 8
White Sox: 8
Indians: 8
Twins: 8
Royals: 8
Yankees: 8
Nationals: 7
Padres: 7
Phillies: 7
Pirates: 7
Orioles: 7
Red Sox: 7
Rays: 7
Blue Jays: 7
Angels: 7
Astros: 7
Rangers: 7
Tigers: 7

You see the outlier there, I’m pretty sure. All teams have five starters, so that makes the Cubs with 14 pitchers (and just 11 position players), 17 teams carrying 13 and 12 teams carrying 12 pitchers.

Of those 12 with 12 pitchers, eight are in the American League. Not to belabor this point, but the reason should be obvious: With the A.L. having the designated hitter, there’s no need to pinch-hit for pitchers as there is in the National League.

Which gets me right back to the primary point here: The Cubs carried nine relievers for the entire four-game series in Miami over the weekend. The ninth reliever, Dylan Floro, pitched in exactly zero games. The man generally considered the “eighth” reliever, Felix Pena, pitched in one of the four games.

This severely hamstrung Joe Maddon with a very short bench. For most of the series he had a three-man bench, and on two of the four days one of the bench players was Mark Zagunis, who was making his major-league debut in this series. Asking Zagunis to be productive as a pinch-hitter wasn’t a good idea. He had exactly zero appearances as a pinch-hitter at Triple-A Iowa this year, and as far as I can tell, just one last year.

Then when Addison Russell had to leave the game Sunday with a shoulder issue, that reduced the number of available bench players to two. What if the Cubs had tied the game and sent it into extra innings? They’d have been forced to use starting pitchers as pinch-hitters, as they did in the 18-inning game against the Yankees earlier this year. You know how well that worked out.

Cubs starting pitchers have been doing much better lately. The starter has gone at least six innings in six of the last seven games, and in general the starting pitching seems close to where it was a year ago.

Granted that with Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist on the disabled list, there aren’t a lot of great options for extra bench players. But Jeimer Candelario should probably have been in Miami for the weekend series. His bat off the bench might have helped, as well as give Joe some more late-inning options. In fact, it looks like Candelario is going to be in Washington tonight:

I’m hoping this means Floro’s headed back to Iowa and does not mean Russell to the DL, because having a short bench will continue to hurt this team. When Heyward returns from the DL, possibly as soon as Thursday, what I’d do is send another reliever (Pena) back to Iowa and add another position player.

The Cubs need bench versatility, not a couple of extra guys in the pen who don’t even get into games.


The Cubs should be carrying...

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    9 relievers
    (14 votes)
  • 50%
    8 relievers
    (363 votes)
  • 46%
    7 relievers
    (337 votes)
  • 1%
    A different number of relievers (leave in comments)
    (8 votes)
722 votes total Vote Now