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Morrow new closer in revamped Cubs bullpen

Cishek, Alvarez join relief corps, which battled wildness in '17
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- After Hector Rondon in 2015, Aroldis Chapman in '16 and Wade Davis in '17, who's next as the Cubs' closer? And who will set him up?

The Cubs bullpen has undergone a makeover since the end of the 2017 season, and for the fourth straight year, they'll have a new closer. Brandon Morrow, who signed a two-year, $21 million contract in December, was expected to take over.

CHICAGO -- After Hector Rondon in 2015, Aroldis Chapman in '16 and Wade Davis in '17, who's next as the Cubs' closer? And who will set him up?

The Cubs bullpen has undergone a makeover since the end of the 2017 season, and for the fourth straight year, they'll have a new closer. Brandon Morrow, who signed a two-year, $21 million contract in December, was expected to take over.

Morrow isn't the only new face. Other additions to the bullpen include Steve Cishek, Dario Alvarez, Cory Mazzoni and Randy Rosario.

Video: Cubs add free agents Brandon Morrow and Drew Smyly

"You've got to have that great bullpen to play the last game of the year and win it," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "You see it turning into a bullpen kind of game, and especially when it gets to the last several games of the year."

BULLPEN IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Morrow, RHP
Pedro Strop, RHP
Carl Edwards Jr., RHP
Cishek, RHP
Mike Montgomery, LHP
Justin Grimm, RHP
Justin Wilson, LHP
Alvarez, LHP

STRENGTH
Maddon likes variety in his bullpen and it appears he'll have that. Cishek, for example, has evolved into a versatile reliever with the ability to pitch in the middle and late innings. He throws almost exclusively sinkers and sliders, both from an unusual three-quarters arm angle. Alvarez, who appeared in 20 games with the Rangers last season, compiling a 2.76 ERA, has an effective slider.

Video: Justice on Cishek signing with Cubs

Edwards, 26, has one more year of experience, and Montgomery, 28, who compiled a 2.49 ERA as a reliever, has shown he can do everything.

QUESTION MARKS
Morrow began his career as a closer, and was switched to a starter for the next seven seasons before he went back to the bullpen. Can he get the last out? Morrow doesn't appear to be bothered by late-inning situations or work. He pitched in all seven games in the World Series for the Dodgers.

When the Cubs acquired Wilson at the non-waiver Trade Deadline last year, they hoped he would provide another late-inning option. The lefty struggled, posting a 5.09 ERA in 23 games, and was not included on the Cubs' roster in the National League Championship Series.

Video: CHC@STL: Wilson catches DeJong looking to end the 8th

"Getting him on track will make a huge difference for us this season," Maddon said.

Wilson isn't the only one. Cubs relievers issued 264 walks last year (in 2016, they walked 199), and that's not a good trend.

"Virtually every reliever we had walked more guys this year than they did on average through their career," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "It could be a fluke, or there were certain situations where we tried to be too fine or situations where we didn't prioritize getting a strike."

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
The Cubs have been rumored to still be looking for a closer, but most likely are done adding relievers, especially since they have young pitchers in the system who could contribute such as Dillon Maples and Rob Zastryzny. Maddon likes to say the bullpen is "thick" with talent.

Video: NYY@CHC: Zastryzny strikes out Headley swinging

"I like the 'pen," Maddon said. "There's some really good arms. ... By the end of this offseason, we'll have a really firm bullpen again."

The biggest change will come when the pitchers arrive in Spring Training. After six seasons with Chris Bosio as the pitching coach, the Cubs decided it was time for a new voice. Jim Hickey, who was Maddon's pitching coach with the Rays, takes over.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Dario Alvarez, Steve Cishek, Justin Grimm, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Brandon Morrow, Pedro Strop, Justin Wilson