While Javier Baez and Kyle Hendricks have dominated the good headlines recently, the Cubs still see a shutdown bullpen being a big part of their future.
As the Cubs played to a 16-12 record over their last 28 games, the bullpen emerged as a bright spot, showing the organization’s stockpile of young, high-upside arms. In that time, the relievers put up a 1.69 ERA (19 earned runs in 101 innings combined).
During a three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, the bullpen tossed 11.2 shutout innings, allowing only three hits and four walks at Wrigley Field.
"It's been a process," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "As they've continued to experience those types of situations early in the season, or they might have had a moment of falter, they gained ground by understanding what they needed to do the next time if it didn't work out.”
The Cubs are tied for fifth in the National League with a 3.28 bullpen ERA this year. Take away Jose Veras and his rough start early in the season - 12 ER in 13.1 IP - and that mark would be at 3.12. (Veras has since regained his form with a 2-0 record and a 2.79 ERA in 21 games with the Houston Astros.)
The Cubs paid Veras $4 million for those 13-plus innings, but they've built the rest of the bullpen without having to commit significant funds, modeling the St. Louis Cardinals and their strategy of acquiring and developing a surplus of young, hard-throwing pitchers.
Neil Ramirez (13 holds, 1.11 ERA) and Justin Grimm - who tossed 3.1 hitless innings to get the win on Saturday - were part of the Matt Garza deal with the Texas Rangers last July. Pedro Strop (15 holds, 2.36 ERA) was another change-of-scenery guy in the Scott Feldman trade with the Orioles last summer.
Hector Rondon (21 saves, 2.81 ERA) was a Rule 5 pick. Brian Schlitter (3.47 ERA) was acquired in a 2008 trade with the Philadelphia Phillies for Scott Eyre. Lefty Wesley Wright (2.43 ERA) is only making $1.425 million in his second year of arbitration.
"They've been chipping away,” Renteria said. “As they continue to do well, their confidence grows. They've been going out there and doing a great job, so we're very fortunate to have those guys."
And there's more on the way with power arms Arodys Vizcaino and Armando Rivero making strides at Triple-A Iowa.
If the Cubs are going to be competitive in the next few years, they will be counting on those guys to hold onto late leads and close out wins in front of 40,000 fans at Wrigley Field.