Brandon Morrow, who was signed to a two-year deal (with a third-year option) to be the Cubs’ closer beginning in 2018, won’t be ready for Opening Day. He hasn’t thrown a single pitch in spring training and early May is the best-case scenario.
Pedro Strop, who closed in Morrow’s absence in 2018 and did very well at that, was slated to be the closer beginning the 2019 season, but... uh-oh...
Pedro Strop felt something while throwing his final pitch in Saturday's Cactus League game. Important to note that this is not the same hamstring that Strop injured while running the bases during an extra-inning game last September.— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) March 12, 2019
Joe Maddon still can’t guarantee that Pedro Strop will be ready by Opening Day: “If not, maybe shortly thereafter. It’s something we caught quickly. I can’t emphasize enough – it doesn’t look bad. But you don’t push a guy like that right now.”— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) March 12, 2019
Now. Maybe this is no big deal. As noted by Patrick Mooney, this mild hamstring strain is not on the same leg Strop injured running the bases last September in Washington. And, often teams act with an abundance of caution during spring training, not putting pitchers into meaningless games if they have minor injuries. Joe Maddon’s quote, “It’s something we caught quickly. I can’t emphasize enough – it doesn’t look bad. But you don’t push a guy like that right now,” would seem to indicate that maybe this would be a “day-to-day” thing if it were the regular season, but since it’s not, they can let him rest for a couple of weeks.
People get the impression that the Cubs’ bullpen wasn’t any good last year because of the injuries to Morrow and Strop and the ineffectiveness of Brandon Kintzler and others. In reality, though, the Cubs pen was quite good overall. They posted a 3.35 ERA, best in the National League, had 46 saves and 19 blown saves (71 percent, second-best in the N.L.), allowed 29 percent of inherited runners to score (fifth-best in the N.L.), and allowed just 51 home runs, fewest of any pen in the major leagues in 2018.
So despite lacking a traditional, 95+ closer for much of 2018, there was nothing wrong with the Cubs’ pen.
They will miss Strop, though, if he’s not available Opening Day.
There are a few choices for closer in the absence of Strop and Morrow.
Carl Edwards Jr.
CJ has looked good this spring with his new Kenley Jansen-style motion in which he hesitates with his front leg before pitching. He’s always seemed to be a closer-in-waiting. All he needs to do is cut down on the walks (5.5 per nine innings in 2018, 4.9 career).
Brach has closed before, for the Orioles in 2017 and 2018. He’s got 33 career saves. However, he’s been slowed by a bout of mononucleosis this spring and might wind up also starting the year on the injured list.
Another pitcher with closing experience, he’s had two 30-save seasons in his career (Marlins, 2013 and 2014) and had 25 saves for the 2016 Mariners. His funky sidearm motion and lack of velocity aren’t traditional “closer” traits, but he does a good job of getting guys out.
Kintzler, as noted above, was ineffective last year. He’s made four appearances this spring. Three were pretty good, one was awful. Kintzler closed for the Twins in 2016 and 2017 and in 2017, posted 28 saves with only four blown saves through the end of July, which is how he got himself traded to the Nationals that year. He’s a ground-ball pitcher and is most effective getting outs that way.
Then there’s the non-traditional idea of Dillon Maples, who has a devastating slider... when he can get it over the plate. Maples has done that reasonably well this spring, throwing 4⅓ innings with two walks and nine strikeouts. With the current uncertainty regarding Strop, Brach and others, Maples has a chance to make the Opening Day roster.
Who would you choose to close Cubs games starting March 28 in Texas if Pedro’s not available?
Who should close games for the Cubs if Pedro Strop and Brandon Morrow can’t?
This poll is closed
Carl Edwards Jr.
"Closer by committee"
Someone else (leave in comments)