Inbox: What's the Cubs' closer situation?

Beat reporter Carrie Muskat answers questions from fans

October 22nd, 2018
Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Brandon Morrow reacts by clapping his hand to his glove after striking out San Diego Padres Eric Hosmer during the ninth inning of a baseball game in San Diego, Sunday, July 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)Alex Gallardo/AP

I know Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein does not like to spend long-term money on closers. Given the concern with staying healthy for a full season, do you think the Cubs will look for another closer in the offseason?
-- Michael T., Chicago

Morrow is projected as the Cubs' closer in 2019. The club may be a little more careful in how it uses him, and again, it wants to make sure there are other options. That doesn't mean the Cubs will look specifically for a closer, but they would like relievers with experience in those situations. They did have pitchers who fit that description this season in , , and .
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"I think we're very comfortable with Morrow as part of a deep and talented 'pen," Epstein said at the end of the season wrapup. "We have to recommit to him in a very structured role, and stick with it to do our best to keep him healthy and set some rules and adhere to them and build the pen around that."
What helps is that the Cubs have had experience with Morrow's injury -- a bone bruise that was diagnosed after he had right forearm discomfort -- which has recovered from.
I was blessed to be able to travel from Puerto Rico with my son and dad to see Game 162 and were even treated to Game 163. With the concern about the Cubs' hitting this year, I wanted to know what was the process in selecting a new hitting coach. I thought someone like Carlos Beltran or similiar would be someone the players could respect and relate to. He could connect with both players from the U.S. and Latino players. Why was the process of selecting a hitting coach done so quickly?
-- Rafael P., Arecibo, Puerto Rico

The Cubs most likely moved fast to hire Anthony Iapoce because he became available after the Rangers dismissed manager Jeff Banister, and they didn't want him picked up by another team. One of the strong points in bringing Iapoce back is that he knows quite a few of the young Cubs players in his previous job as the team's Minor League hitting coordinator. Iapoce said he learned a lot after three seasons with the Rangers and working with players such as , , and Mike Napoli.
The Cubs seemed to hit a brick wall offensively after the All-Star break. What was their batting average, batting average with runners in scoring position and runs scored before and after the break? What do you think caused this?
-- Chris C., Rock Island, Ill.

The Cubs batted .265 before the All-Star break, tops in the National League, and .249 in the second half (eighth in the NL). They batted .250 with runners in scoring position in the first half and .242 after the break. They led the NL in runs scored in the first half with 476 and totaled 285 in the second half, which ranked eighth in the NL.
What caused the drop? Epstein and Co. are trying to figure it out. That was one of the topics during the exit interviews with players.
"We hit more ground balls in the second half than any other team by a huge margin," Epstein said. "Something happened in our offense in the second half. We stopped walking, we stopped hitting home runs, we stopped hitting the ball in the air and we stopped being productive."
What are the Cubs' plans to address the leadoff position in the batting order? It did not seem that there was a consistent table-setter in 2018.
-- Randy P., Omaha

It's on the list of things to do, but Epstein says it's not No. 1. Just guessing that one of the reasons fans keep clamoring for one is because of how well the Cubs functioned with at the top in 2016. This past season, the Cubs used 10 leadoff men (they had 11 in 2017). Here are the records for each one:
Albert Almora Jr.: 46 games (27-19)
: 31 games (18-13)
: 30 games (20-10)
: 27 games (16-11)
: 13 games (7-6)
: seven games (4-3)
: four games (3-1)
: three games (0-3)
: one game (0-1)
: one game (0-1)
I was at the last Cubs-Cardinals game, and I was surprised to see that Carl Edwards Jr.'s velocity was down quite a bit. His fastball was consistently registering 90-91 mph. What's going on with him.?
-- Diana H., Chicago

Edwards apparently was trying to pitch despite some soreness in his right forearm. He was not included on the Wild Card roster because of that.
Dakota Mekkes keeps impressing with his stats. His only plus pitch is his average fastball with "80 grade deception." Will he ever make it to the Cubs?
-- John D., Grand Rapids, Mich.

Mekkes, 23, did have impressive numbers this season, compiling a 0.81 ERA over 22 1/3 innings in 16 games at Double-A Tennessee and a 1.44 ERA over 31 1/3 innings in 25 games at Triple-A Iowa. Also worth noting is that he struck out 71 over 53 2/3 innings while walking 29. He needs to develop his other pitches. For those who don't know, he was the Cubs' 10th-round pick in the 2016 Draft.