By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — With just 12 games in the books, the Cubs bullpen is being picked apart and dissected in some circles after a rough weekend. The bullpen coughed up leads in each of the three losses as the Cubs were swept by the Pirates.
It marked the first time since 2000 that a Cubs bullpen had blown three straight save chances. So, are those struggles a real concern or a blip on the radar with key reliever Carl Edwards Jr. out on bereavement leave?
That’s what the Cubs are attempting to figure out, as manager Joe Maddon admitted to having talks with the front office about carrying one more reliever. That will be the case Monday night when the Cubs host the Brewers, as Edwards is back and infielder Tommy La Stella has been placed on the bereavement list, though the long-term plan is still being discussed.
“It takes a month to figure out your bullpen,” Maddon said. “We are still going through that process out there.”
With a glut of outfielders, the Cubs had been trying to piece the back end of games together with seven relievers amid their 6-6 start. Those days may soon be in the past, and a decision on outfielder Matt Szczur may have to be made. Szczur is out of minor league options and would be subject to being lost on waivers if the Cubs were to move him down.
“We are considering it,” Maddon said of adding an eighth reliever permanently. “That is definitely a possibility. It is something we pondered in spring training also.”
The Cubs will play 32 games in 34 days from April 28 to May 31. At that crucial point, they’ll surely need an eight-man bullpen. Before the past two games, the Cubs bullpen had been solid, with a collective 1.71 ERA entering Saturday. Then relievers allowed 11 earned runs in the past two games.
The team’s starters are 5-2 with a 2.56 ERA. The bullpen is 1-4 with a 4.19 ERA. Maddon expects relievers Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop to improve soon.
“It is pretty well known that bullpens are going to fluctuate, good and bad from year to year,” Maddon said.
“(Hector Rondon) got hurt last year. I think he is making great strides. Pedro is coming off the knee thing. I know with him, he has to get back into his rhythm. Once he finds that, he is going to take off. Getting Carl back really helps with the back side of the whole thing. I am honestly not concerned at all. We need to spread them out and make sure we don’t overuse anybody.”
The Cubs maintain faith in their relievers and remind of the good work they’ve done in the past while also being cognizant of the heavy workloads several of them have compiled in the past few years.
“It can be an industry wide thing,” Maddon said about the fluctuation in bullpen performance from year to year. “I like the way our guys look right now. We just have to get them out there at the right times.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.