By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Moving quickly toward an a National League Division Series matchup against the Nationals, the Cubs have the look of a championship contender on many levels.
One of those areas is in the bullpen, which many have been largely overlooked recently. Bullpens become magnified in the postseason, as relievers take the mound in the biggest moments and there’s sometimes no tomorrow.
For the Cubs, getting righty reliever Hector Rondon back last Friday after he was out with bone chips in his elbow has been a valued, important addition. Rondon has had two scoreless appearances and impressed manager Joe Maddon.
“Hector has looked really good the last few times out,” Maddon said on the Spiegel and Parkins Show on 670 The Score on Tuesday. “All of this adds thickness to the pen for us. This is giving us a lot of different options.”
Maddon also praised lefty reliever Justin Wilson for his improved performance recently and added that right-handed reliever Pedro Strop has been “strong.”
Maddon on several occasions in recent weeks stressed his desire for his A and B relievers not to overlap their pitching in so many games. What he meant by that was he wanted to more consistently rely on his high-leverage relievers — the primary setup men and closer Wade Davis — in close games and not have to use them on other days. Because of injuries, Mike Montgomery spending time in the starting rotation and big workloads in a tight playoff race, the Cubs bullpen was sometimes relying on its less reliable relievers in high-leverage moments.
In a short playoff series, Maddon should have his bullpen more properly slotted, and he’s been feeling better about the unit lately. Part of that is because the reliable Montgomery has returned to the bullpen, where he was instrumental in the Cubs’ championship run in 2016.
“This now becomes carefully parceling out the moments for them,” Maddon said. “Of course if Strop is well and rested he is going to pitch, and if C.J. (Edwards) is well and rested, he will pitch. Of course, we have Brian Duensing there as well. The more options that a manager has this time of year, the better off the team is.”
Like all managers, Maddon prefers the correct lefty-righty matchup to negate top opposing hitters in late-game situations. As it goes for lefties, he has confidence in Montgomery and Duensing to get one batter out or have two-inning stints. Meanwhile, Wilson is the project for the Cubs. He has a 5.74 ERA in 20 appearances for the Cubs, though he appears more comfortable lately. He struck out three of the four Brewers he faced Saturday.
If Wilson keeps that up and the top bullpen arms continue to be reliable, that could be the difference for the Cubs when they figure to open up the posteason in Washington D.C. next week.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.