Merryweather steps up for Cubs bullpen

September 25th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO -- There is no worrying about workloads when the calendar flips to October and the win-or-go-home reality of the postseason arrives. And with one week left for the Cubs to try to secure their place on that stage, a strained relief corps is doing all it can to push the team across that finish line.

“We're just looking to finish strong,” Cubs reliever said. “Everyone's feeling tired. Everyone has aches and pains here. But if you're good enough to play, you're good enough to play. That's kind of where we're all at.”

Merryweather has been a big reason for Chicago even being in this position.

During Cubs manager David Ross’ first-half search for the right bullpen formula, a trusted quartet emerged in Adbert Alzolay, Michael Fulmer, Mark Leiter Jr. and Merryweather. Right now, Alzolay and Fulmer are on the injured list. Leiter and Merryweather are pushing through career highs in relief work.

Merryweather danced around some self-induced traffic in appearances on Saturday and Sunday against the Rockies but emerged unscathed to help seal a pair of important wins. Through 67 games this season, the hard-throwing righty now has a 3.38 ERA with 95 strikeouts and 36 walks in 69 1/3 innings out of Chicago’s ‘pen.

And Merryweather’s overall line is skewed by a false start to the season. Eight of the 26 earned runs he has allowed came within his first five games, giving him a 2.54 ERA in the 62 appearances that have followed.

“He's been phenomenal for us,” Ross said. “Julian's done a really nice job of coming in, working on being consistent, staying healthy, and mixing things up a little bit and you see the success. He's been great for us, man. We wouldn't be where we're at without him, for sure.”

Before this year, Merryweather’s career high in Major League innings was 26 2/3, which he logged last year for the Blue Jays. This year’s total represents his most innings in one year since he was a Cleveland pitching prospect in 2017, when he tossed 128 2/3 innings as a starter.

Merryweather has been one of the stories of the year in the bullpen for the Cubs, but he is not alone. Javier Assad has been a multi-inning weapon and “a big MVP guy” for the whole staff, as Merryweather put it. Veteran Drew Smyly was moved out of the rotation and has stepped up as a much-needed lefty option. Jose Cuas has picked up leverage innings of late, and youngster Daniel Palencia has had his moments. The list goes on.

“There's so many guys you can name,” Merryweather said, “because everyone's been stepping up in different roles for us this year at one point or another. It's been a really cool year to be a part of it, for sure.”

And the Cubs need that to continue. Getting onto the October stage, and trying to go on a longer postseason run, will require it.

“It should be a fun finish,” Merryweather said. “I think we have a good chance against these teams coming up. It should be some good baseball.”