Cubs making it work without designated closer

September 18th, 2018

PHOENIX -- The Cubs' last five saves have been recorded by five pitchers, including one who was released by the D-backs a month ago () and another who spent a long time in the Minors trying to not be released by the Cubs (). It's just part of the mix-and-match effort the club will utilize for now.

The good news is that , who had been handling most of the save situations but injured his right hamstring on Sept. 13, said he expects to pitch in regular-season games.

"I think I'll be back soon," Strop said Monday. "They said [he wouldn't pitch] in the regular season, but in my mind it'll never be that. I'm thinking at least two appearances before the playoffs."

The Cubs, who began the day with a 2 1/2-game lead on the Brewers in the National League Central, still have to secure a postseason spot. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn't sound concerned about not having a designated closer for the next two weeks.

"I honestly think the quality of our bullpen is being overlooked," Epstein said. "It'd be nice if we could be one of those teams that has the best bullpen ERA in the league -- oh, wait, that's us, by like a third of a run, and it's more than one or two guys."

He's right. Chicago's relievers began play on Monday boasting an NL-best 3.30 ERA.

"We've had a deep group all year with contributions from many, many relievers -- some expected, some unexpected," Epstein said. "We've had guys bounce back from off-years last year, and it's been 'next man up.' Obviously, we miss [] and we're missing Stropy now, but our 'pen is more than one or two guys. Look at the numbers.

"It's not exactly the way we drew it up, but we have quality relievers out there who are unafraid of going at guys and making pitches," Epstein said. "We feel confident we'll protect leads. It's just a matter of getting those leads."

Both Epstein and manager Joe Maddon said they needed to talk to Morrow, 34, before deciding the next step for the right-hander, who pitched a sim game on Saturday at Wrigley Field. He's been sidelined since mid-July with a bone bruise in his right forearm. Morrow opened the season in the closer's role, but he missed most of June with a lower back injury and hasn't pitched in a big league game since July 15 because of a sore right elbow and biceps inflammation.

"If he comes back and he's healthy and effective, we would certainly be open to that possibility [of having him close again]," Epstein said. "We're not there yet."

Maddon: 'Time to move on' from Contreras' mistake

As far as Maddon is concerned, has atoned for his mistake in not running out a ball he hit in Sunday's game. It's time to move on.

"Willson always plays hard, and for anybody to say otherwise, please come talk to me," Maddon said. "It's inappropriate and incorrect and wrong. He had a bad moment. He said he was sorry and did the right thing. Anybody who wants to hammer on that should talk to me because I'll defend this young man."

Epstein agreed with Maddon.

"[Contreras] knows he messed up," Epstein said. "He respects the game. In the moment when he did the wrong thing, it bothered not only everyone in the organization but also his teammates. You could see the look on his face at second base.

"Let's hope he gets hot and makes somebody else pay for his mistake. That can't and won't happen again."

Injury updates: Schwarber, Heyward

(back) is making progress, but he did not make the trip to Phoenix with the team and was continuing his rehab in Chicago.  also did not travel to Phoenix because of back issues.

is expected to start in right field on Tuesday against Arizona right-hander . Heyward has been sidelined with a right hamstring injury since Aug. 30.