Carl Edwards Jr.

How Carl Edwards Jr. regained his confidence and killer instinct out of Cubs bullpen

How Carl Edwards Jr. regained his confidence and killer instinct out of Cubs bullpen

Carl Edwards Jr. unleashed a big curveball that froze Cincinnati Reds leadoff guy Billy Hamilton with a check swing and forced Cubs catcher Victor Caratini to make a hockey goalie-style block in the dirt with two runners on. They all looked at third base umpire Ron Kulpa, who signaled strike three as the crowd of 36,698 roared on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.   

The Cubs hope that seventh-inning scene is more of a big-picture look at the rest of their season than the final score in a 2-1 loss. The Cubs believe Edwards can be an Andrew Miller-type presence during the playoffs, maybe their future closer. By striking out all three batters he faced, Edwards kept it a scoreless game and bailed out Kyle Hendricks, who looked more like last year’s major-league ERA leader.   

Edwards screamed and pumped his fist as he walked back to the dugout, an emotional release from the slump that had manager Joe Maddon getting what-do-you-do-with-C.J.? questions.

“It’s more mental than anything,” Edwards said. “I know this game is very humbling. I can look good for 30 straight appearances. And then all of a sudden – four/five big games – I can be hurt again. I just look at it as going out there and having fun.

“I knew in the back of my mind that I would get over it because I’m a strong-minded guy. It wasn’t (anything) physical. I don’t know how I lost confidence, but I lost it. Right now, I'm just slowly getting it back. And I’m feeling more and more comfortable going out there every day.”

After watching Edwards blow the save and give up a grand slam to Matt Wieters during a potential playoff preview against the Washington Nationals in early August, Maddon compared the situation to a great shooter in basketball: “You just keep throwing it back out there.”

“I don’t want to run away from him,” Maddon said. “He’s really good. He had a bad couple days. Hitters go through slumps. Pitchers go through slumps. Managers go through slumps. Writers go through slumps. We all go through slumps.

“I love the guy. I absolutely love him. I love the teammate that he is. He had a couple tough days. Everybody does.”

Edwards actually had a 1.07 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP through his first 27 appearances this season – and then put up a 6.55 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP across his next 25 games. Still, there is so much to work with here, from the swing-and-miss stuff (70 strikeouts in 48.1 innings) to his natural feel for pitching to the internal drive that allowed him to blossom as a former 48th-round draft pick.         

“A big thing has been my dad sending me messages,” Edwards said, “every day telling me to pray and meditate. He knows me like a book. It’s just getting those words from him and seeing those messages before I go out to the game. And taking that message with me: No matter what happens, I’m here for a reason.”

Keep it simple. Don’t overthink it. Be yourself.

“He’s always done that,” Edwards said. “(When) I was struggling real bad, he told me: ‘Every day, just go back to backyard baseball. Say a prayer. Miss you. Meditate and just know, son, you’re there for a reason. And no matter what the outcome is, I’m going to still love you regardless.’ Just my dad being my dad. He basically taught me pitching growing up, so he’s the one that knows me best.”

Brian Duensing: The unsung hero of Cubs bullpen

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AP

Brian Duensing: The unsung hero of Cubs bullpen

Brian Duensing thought he was being punked.

But there was no Ashton Kutcher or hidden cameras.

The defending champions really were going hard after Duensing on the free agent market over the winter.

"I asked my agent, 'What are we missing? I don't understand,'" Duensing said on this week's CubsTalk Podcast. "He said, 'Hey, when teams want somebody, they go after him.' I said, 'Alright, they must know something that I don't.'"

And they did. 

The Cubs front office was passionate about going out and getting Duensing as a veteran left-handed option in the bullpen.

"I know our scouts in the offseason felt really strongly about him," Joe Maddon said. "Coming into this season, that's all I heard about. Our guys loved Brian Duensing."

Duensing is a diamond in the rough, a guy who entered the winter with a 4.13 and 1.38 WHIP in 662.2 career innings, striking out an average of 5.9 hitters per nine innings.

This season, the 34-year-old has a 2.45 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and has nearly doubled his strikeout rate to 10.2 batters per nine innings.

"A lot of swings and misses — I don't know what that's about, to be honest," Duensing said. "I really don't know what's going on there. Just things are working really well right now and hopefully they continue."

Duensing had a stretch of 16.1 scoreless innings going before giving up a run and taking the loss Wednesday in San Francisco.

It all looks legit, too. Duensing's FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and xFIP (expected FIP) are at 2.99 and 3.34, respectively, meaning the peripheral numbers support his breakout season.

Based on FanGraphs' WAR, Duensing (0.7) is tied with Mike Montgomery and Koji Uehara as the second-best Cubs reliever behind only Wade Davis (0.9). Hector Rondon (0.5 WAR), Pedro Strop (0.5) and Carl Edwards Jr. (0.4) are further down that list.

Duensing admitted feeling a little unsure of himself when he first joined the Cubs, as he didn't want to be the guy not producing on a team vying for its second straight World Series. He battled a back injury and started the year on the disabled list before posting an 8.10 ERA in seven April games.

But since then, his ERA is at 1.54 with only 32 hits in 41 innings.

"When he started out this year, I was getting to know him, he was getting to know us," Maddon said. "He's really quiet on the surface, but an ingratiating, under-the-surface fellow. He's got a great personality.

"I wanna believe the way we do things has permitted him to be himself. And I think because of that, you're seeing the best side of him pitching-wise."

Duensing raved about the Cubs' pitching infrastructure, giving credit to pitching coach Chris Bosio, catching/gameplanning coach Mike Borzello and bullpen coach Lester Strode.

He's also fit in seamlessly with his teammates, who are doing everything they can to help keep Duensing going strong.

Even telling him he stinks.

"He's asked us not to say anything good about him," Davis said. "We keep telling him his stuff is no good and he stinks. He doesn't want to hear none of it, which is good. That's how you should think.

"People don't wanna hear they're doing good. Just to keep him away from it. You always wanna be able to live between both [good and bad] thoughts."

The Cubs bullpen has been under scrutiny lately with some late meltdowns that have helped to hand games away. But with Uehara on the disabled list and Davis and Edwards still searching for consistency, Duensing has been the unsung hero the Cubs bullpen has needed.

Even if nobody's really noticed.

"The other day, I walked out with Addison Russell," Duensing said. "Obviously, everybody's yelling for Addy and then as you walk by, you hear, 'Hey, who was that guy?'

"But it doesn't matter. That's good. If I'm doing my job, then no one knows I'm there, which is the way it should be. As long as I'm not getting recognized that's probably a good thing, so I'll take that.

"But maybe I'll start wearing my jersey out in public or something. I think I'm one of the most generic-looking human beings of all time or something."

The Cubs Players Weekend jerseys are out and the nicknames are...interesting

The Cubs Players Weekend jerseys are out and the nicknames are...interesting

Jon Lester doesn't have time for nicknames.

MLB is doing Players Weekend for the first time ever this month, where each team will wear new uniforms with nicknames on the back Aug. 25-27, when the Cubs will be in Philadelphia.

Each player will also have a patch to thank people who have inspired them:

The Cubs unveiled their sick new uniforms plus all the nicknames of their players and some are downright hilarious, while others are very blah.

And yes, Jon Lester just chose "Lester" as his moniker:

Those hats are straight fire.

Here's the full list:

Kris Bryant: KB
Kyle Schwarber: Schwarbs
Anthony Rizzo: Tony
Jake Arrieta: Snake
Willson Contreras: Willy (not Killer)
Jon Lester: Lester
Addison Russell: Addy
Ben Zobrist: Zorilla
Ian Happ: Happer
Tommy La Stella: La Stella
Koji Uehara: Koji
Javy Baez: El Mago
Jose Quintana: Q
Mike Montgomery: Monty
Brian Duensing: Deuce
Jon Jay: 305 J
Kyle Hendricks: Hendo
Jason Heyward: J-Hey
Carl Edwards Jr.: Carl's Jr.
Hector Rondon: Rondi
Albert Almora Jr.: Tico
Pedro Strop: Stropy
John Lackey: Lack
Wade Davis: Wader

But how is Contreras not "Killer" as his leather vest showed over the weekend for this "Easy Rider" themed trip?

Lester wasn't the only one who played it right down the middle as La Stella and Uehara kept things low-key. Heyward prefers to just stick with "J-Hey" because "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said over the weekend.

Edwards going with "Carl's Jr." and Javy with the "El Mago" are the two best for sure. And of course Schwarber had to be "Schwarbs."

AND HOW IS KYLE HENDRICKS NOT "THE PROFESSOR"?? (Sorry for all caps, but I think we can all agree it was needed.)

But the Cubs are nowhere near some of the best ones from around the league, like Kyle Seager being "Corey's Brother"

I must say, I wouldn't be opposed to owning the Tony jersey