Thursday’s 4-3 win over the Washington Nationals felt more like a crushing loss than a big victory. In the midst of picking up a much-needed half game to pad their division lead, the Chicago Cubs may have lost reliever Pedro Strop for the regular season.
Strop pulled his hamstring in the 10th inning while attempting to beat out an infield single. Joe Maddon’s decision to bat Strop was somewhat puzzling. With the bases loaded and one out, he could’ve opted to pinch hit with Tommy LaStella or Taylor Davis to try and add insurance runs.
According to Maddon, he let Strop take the at-bat so he could get one more inning with the lead. Instead, Maddon’s decision might have landed Strop on the DL for at least two weeks.
With the Cubs’ current schedule and bullpen woes, Strop’s loss could have a lingering effect down the stretch.
The loss of closer Brandon Morrow has echoed loudly since July. The domino effect has caused Maddon to play a weird game of roulette to finish games. Morrow is still rehabbing his right forearm, and multiple reports have said that he likely won’t return until the last week of season. But even that seems overly optimistic. Just a week ago, Maddon was under the impression that Morrow might not return this season.
Strop was never publicly named as Morrow’s replacement, but the numbers indicated that he was the closer by proxy. Strop has recorded 11 saves in 13 opportunities with a 1.93 ERA. While Strop’s own inconsistencies never made him a lockdown solution, he was probably the best option down the stretch and in the postseason.
The saga to finish games just got much more dramatic with both Morrow and Strop on the shelf.
Even with Strop handling closer duties, the Cubs already had issues bridging the gap to the ninth inning without Morrow. Prior to Morrow’s injury, the Cubs were able to use Strop, Justin Wilson, Steve Cishek and Carl Edwards Jr. as lockdown options in the seventh and eighth innings.
Making Strop a ninth-inning solution not only removed a high-quality setup man from the available pool of choices, but it also screwed up Wilson, Cishek and Edwards’ usage in late innings. Both Edwards and Cishek have struggled the most lately, especially with their command.
Cishek is on pace to reach career highs in games and innings pitched, and Edwards’ inconsistent nature seemingly gets worst the more he is used in high-leverage situations. Could the bullpen’s overuse earlier in the season and the increased use in high-leverage situations lately be hurting both relievers?
July acquisition Jesse Chavez has been a “super reliever” for Maddon, pitching exceptionally well as a long reliever, setup man and closer when called upon. Unfortunately, the Cubs other July acquisition, Brandon Kintzler, has been brutal.
Originally viewed as a setup option, Kintzler has posted a woeful 8.36 ERA, 2.214 WHIP and 14.8 hits per nine in 14 innings since joining the Cubs. His struggles were already problematic, but they’re even more prevalent now.
If the Cubs are forced to use Wilson or Chavez to close games, the bridge to the ninth inning gets even shakier.
With the Milwaukee Brewers continuing to nip at their heels, Maddon doesn’t have the luxury to actively rest relievers down the stretch. He has to hope his starting staff can go deeper into ballgames or that Cishek, Edwards and Kintzler pitch their way out of their respective funks.
Given all the circumstances leading up to Thursday, the win should’ve been a major sigh of relief and proverbial flip-of-the-bird to MLB for how the game was scheduled. Instead, it just created another issue at the worst possible time.