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Well-rested Cubs 'pen hit hard in Denver

Value of Kimbrel's addition apparent in loss to Rockies
@MannyOnMLB
June 12, 2019

DENVER -- Things were looking up for the Cubs’ bullpen heading into Tuesday’s game against the Rockies at Coors Field. After all, they will soon get one of the best closers in the game, Craig Kimbrel, who signed a three-year, $43 million deal last Friday. Kimbrel is in Arizona and

DENVER -- Things were looking up for the Cubs’ bullpen heading into Tuesday’s game against the Rockies at Coors Field.

After all, they will soon get one of the best closers in the game, Craig Kimbrel, who signed a three-year, $43 million deal last Friday. Kimbrel is in Arizona and on track to face hitters later this week after throwing his second bullpen session since joining the Cubs on Monday.

Add to that how well-rested the relief corps has been thanks to starting pitchers going deep into games this month, and suddenly what had been an inconsistent group could legitimately hope it was turning a corner.

Then came Tuesday’s 10-3 loss to Colorado, in which six of the runs the Rockies scored were charged to the ‘pen.

Box score

With how Cubs relievers faded down the stretch last season, contributing to the Brewers catching them in the National League Central and ultimately defeating them in a tiebreaker before Chicago fell to the Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game, the specter of deja vu in 2019 lingers.

It begs the question: How much will Kimbrel matter if bridging the gap from starter to closer remains a dicey proposition?

“We got [starter Jose] Quintana out of the game right there in the fifth inning, and things kind of fell apart,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Quintana was lifted with two outs and the Cubs trailing, 3-1, a more than manageable deficit given where they were playing. Maddon summoned right-hander Brad Brach from the bullpen to face Nolan Arenado, who reached on an infield single that led to a run when Javier Baez’s throw skipped past first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Brach stepped back on the mound for a clean frame in the sixth and the Cubs still within striking distance. That’s when the floodgates opened. The Rockies strung together four singles before Maddon turned to former Rockies starter Tyler Chatwood, who surrendered a three-run homer by Charlie Blackmon.

Brach was charged with four runs over two-thirds of an inning, raising his season ERA to 6.39 over 25 1/3 innings.

“The stuff is there,” Maddon said of Brach, who touched 96 mph with his fastball. “It’s just about pitch selection and pitch location. It’s about him putting hitters away with a quality pitch with two strikes.”

Two of the four singles off Brach in the sixth came on 0-2 counts. He also had Daniel Murphy in an 0-1 count when Murphy opened the frame with a single.

“Frankly, it’s embarrassing,” Brach said, “going out there and giving up line drive after line drive. We were still in that game and I basically went out there and blew it and didn’t give us a chance to come back and win that game.”

Brach isn’t the only Cubs reliever who has had a difficult 2019. Mike Montgomery’s ERA stands at 5.17, and he’s given up two of the three longest homers in MLB this season, according to Statcast: Ian Desmond’s 486-foot shot in Monday’s series opener and Nomar Mazara’s 482-foot blast on Opening Day.

Carl Edwards Jr., coming off the finest season of his career, had an 11.05 ERA through 11 starts on May 21. But he’s turned things around, not having a run charged to his line over his last eight outings.

“It’s only a matter of time,” he said. “We’re all going to be clicking. Once we get Kimbrel here with us, we’ll just see how it goes.”

The addition of Kimbrel will enable current closer Pedro Strop to move into a setup role, effectively moving everyone in the bullpen down a rung on the ladder. That will, in theory, give Maddon more flexibility with how he deploys his relievers in the middle innings.

“That’s the general philosophy or theory,” Maddon said, “to get Craig going and move everybody back, absolutely. But everybody’s got to do their job in the bullpen to get to a Kimbrel.”

Whether those middle relievers can do that could largely determine whether Chicago is able to reclaim the NL Central crown and make another deep postseason run. If they can’t, it could be 2018 all over again.

“We don’t determine when we go in the game or who we face,” Brach said. “When Joe calls down there, it’s up to us to get the job done. Everybody down there is capable of doing it. We’ve just got to do it.

“You’ve just got to execute when the time comes and pass the ball to the next guy.”

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.