The Cubs bullpen has been lights out in May
Newsletter Cubs Craig Kimbrel

The Cubs bullpen has been lights out in May

Kevin Kaduk
Kevin Kaduk

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Good morning, frents!

It's no surprise, but the Bears and the NFL are reportedly prepping for full crowds by the start of preseason.

Am I wrong or is every seat at Soldier Field going to be full for the August 14 game against Miami and our first look at Justin Fields?

Reminder: Email me your questions for this month's mailbag! No question too dumb or too small.

Tuesday's results
Cubs 4, Pirates 3
Sox 8, Cards 3
Dream 90, Sky 83

Today's schedule
Cardinals at Sox (1:10, NBCSCH)
Cubs at Pirates (5:35, Marquee)
Red Stars at KC (7, CBSSN)

Cubs pen is mighty in May

The Cubs bullpen can do no wrong.

Is that a jinx? I have no idea, though it's not like they've been flying under the radar this season. Joc Pederson's two homers butted in on the headline but Craig Kimbrel and Co. threw their way to another win with four scoreless innings in Tuesday's 4-3 road win over Pittsburgh.

That makes 10 one-run victories for the Cubs this season, who are 25-22 and just a half-game out of first in the NL Central after the White Sox beat the Cardinals for the second straight night.

Where this team is going is anyone's guess.

The team's lineup has been all over the place.

The starters frequently treat the sixth inning like just a rumor.

The intentions of ownership and the front office are unclear.

But the bullpen?

The bullpen has been great.

Over the past nine games, Cub relievers have pitched 29 2/3 innings and posted the following numbers:

  • 13 hits
  • 11 walks
  • 40 strikeouts
  • 1 run
  • 0 earned runs

The last earned run allowed by the bullpen was a game-winning RBI single by Harold Castro off Kimbrel in Detroit's 9-8 win on May 15.

Interestingly, all seven of the Cubs losses in May have also been by one run, though that can also be interpreted as a function of how close the bullpen has been keeping the games. Coming into Tuesday's action, the Cubs bullpen had baseball's second best ERA with its 1.89 running only behind San Diego's 1.75.

Another fun stat, courtesy of Codify: Cubs pitchers have only allowed a total of 15 runs in the eighth and ninth innings all year. MLB's average per team is 36!

Kimbrel's return to his previous self is at the core of this performance, of course. He's pitching like the guy the Cubs thought they were signing in 2019 before his numbers went south.

And just in time, too. Whether it's for a push at a division title against a crop of opponents with their own share of warts or just becoming the valuable trade piece a rebuilding effort requires, the Cubs needed this bounceback season from Kimbrel.

His stats over his first 20 appearances this year: 20 innings, 33 Ks, eight walks, two earned runs, a 0.90 ERA and 10 saves.

Tuesday's save was the 358th of Kimbrel's career, which ties him with Troy Percival for the 11th spot on the all-time list. He's still only 32 so he stands a good chance of pitching his way further into the Hall of Fame discussion if this resurgence sticks.

But it's been more than Kimbrel for the Cubs, of course.

  • Andrew Chafin has been the reliable setup man with a closer's look.
  • Keegan Thompson hasn't given up an earned run in seven appearances.
  • Ryan Tepera has earned last year's MVP vote with a great season that includes a 1.20 ERA in his last 15 appearances.
  • Justin Steele was having a great rookie season before being sidelined with the hamstring epidemic that's felling half the roster (Nico Hoerner becoming the latest victim on Tuesday night.)

Of course, the thing about bullpens is that they're unpredictable. If anyone knew how they come together or fall apart, there would be a lot less anxiety felt in front offices across the league.

The Cubs should enjoy that the stable they built for this year is paying off in a big way so far this season.

"Right now, we've got a good game plan, a good mentality and we're attacking guys and getting them in swing mode," Kimbrel said to reporters on Tuesday night.

Next: Trevor Williams (2-2, 5.97) gets his third start of the season against his old team while Wil Crowe (0-2, 4.91) goes for Pittsburgh. Maybe the third time will be a charm for Williams? He's given up seven runs and 15 hits in 7 1/3 innings against the Pirates in 2021.

Trivia

Name the former White Sox star who was part of the trade that sent Kimbrel from Atlanta to San Diego in 2015 and was immediately DFA'ed by the Braves and never played again.

News and results

Sox 8, Cards 3: Giolito takes the Katz Cup

Lucas Giolito won the highly-publicized battle against high school classmate Jack Flaherty, but he didn't do it himself.

  • The Cardinals defense made three errors over the first two innings, spotting Gio an early 5-0 lead despite the Sox only singling twice.
  • Jose Abreu had a night, going 2-for-5 with a homer and four RBI.
  • Liam Hendriks bailed out Garret Crochet with three straight strikeouts against the Cardinals after the rookie loaded the bases to start the ninth inning.

Next: Carlos Rodon (5-1, 1.27) goes for the sweep this afternoon against John Gant (3-3, 2.04).

Dream 90, Sky 83

Still no Candace Parker or Allie Quigley and this one ended with a disappointing post script: The Sky filed a complaint with the league after Sky coach James Wade said an official referred to him as "boy" during the game.  

  • Said Wade to reporters: "“I’m a grown man. I have a family and I have a responsibility ... So when someone tells one of your players, ‘Explain to your boy,’ yeah, I take that personal."
  1. Daniel Jeremiah breaks down the college tape on Justin Fields. (I should just rechristen this the QB1 spot.) BearsWire
  2. Hawk Harrelson laid the praise on thick for Joe West as the umpire became the longest-serving ump in baseball history on Tuesday night. Tribune
  3. The Fire debuted a new Shedd-inspired kit by playing with some seals at the aquarium. Hot Time In Old Town
  4. I enjoyed this story about MLB being on the verge of its two millionth run being scored and why it's really not that big of a deal. NY Times
  5. New Era released "local market" caps on Tuesday and then almost immediately returned them to the hellish depths from whence they came. NBC Sports Chicago

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Trivia answer: Carlos Quentin



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