2019 Preview: Cubs Bullpen

Do the Cubs have enough in the bullpen to go deep in October?

Chris Emma
February 08, 2019 - 11:40 am

(670 The Score) With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training next week, we're breaking down the Cubs' roster as they enter the new season. Today, we take a look at the team's bullpen.

Who's back?

The Cubs will be returning most of their bullpen from last season, but the difference they need in 2019 is health.

Brandon Morrow, 34, will be tasked with the closing duties again, but he's expected to miss the first month of the regular season after undergoing an arthroscopic debridement procedure in November on his throwing elbow, which kept him out for the second half of the 2018 season. When healthy, Morrow was rock solid with a 1.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 22 saves last season.

Veteran Steve Cishek proved to be the linchpin of the Cubs' bullpen in 2018, as the only full-time reliever to reach 70 innings. He had a 2.18 ERA. Pedro Strop was strong with a 2.26 ERA in 59 2/3 innings, though he missed much of September with a hamstring injury. 

The Cubs seek more consistency from Carl Edwards Jr., who dealt with command issues, walking 5.5 batters per nine innings. He still had a solid 2.60 ERA.

A bounce-back season from left-hander Brian Duensing would be key. He was bad in 2018, with a 7.65 ERA in 48 appearances.

Left-hander Mike Montgomery will continue to serve as the Cubs' swingman between the rotation and bullpen. Displaced starting right-hander Tyler Chatwood could also land in a long relief role.

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Who's new?

Without the financial resources to make a major splash on the free-agent market, the Cubs made what they hope will turn out to be discount signings in Brad Brach and Tony Barnette.

Brach, 32, posted a 3.59 ERA in 62 2/3 innings last season. That included a 4.85 ERA in pitching for a poor Orioles defensive team before he was traded to Atlanta, where he recorded a 1.52 ERA in 23 2/3 innings.

Brach has proved to be a capable high-leverage option in his career and also has 33 saves since 2015. He's two seasons removed from a career-best 2.05 ERA in 2016. 

Barnette, 35, has a unique career path. He was a 10th-round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2006 and finally reached the big leagues in 2016 with the Rangers. In between, he went to Japan to pitch in 2010.

Barnette has a career 3.50 ERA in three seasons in Texas. He only threw 26 1/3 innings in 2018.

Gone is lefty reliever Justin Wilson, who signed with the Mets.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said in January that his team wasn't done addressing the bullpen in free agency. The signings of Brach and Barnette followed. It remains to be seen if there will be another reliever is added to the mix.

2019 outlook

The Cubs falling short of expectations last season had nothing to do with their bullpen, which had the second-best ERA in baseball.

Even so, Epstein knows that a deep bullpen is crucial to making a deep postseason run. And while on paper it appears the Cubs have a quality bullpen, age and health remain concerns.

Most importantly, the Cubs need Morrow healthy for close to an entire season. With or without him, the Cubs will rely heavily on Strop, Cishek and -- if he returns to form -- Edwards in high-leverage situations.

With Wilson now in New York, Duensing and Montgomery will be counted on as the Cubs' left-handed specialists. Duensing had a 2.74 ERA in 2017 before blowing up in 2018.

Health will be key for the Cubs, who will be counting on their bullpen to help lead them deep into October. Midseason bullpen acquisitions are always a possibility, if not a certainty, for contending teams like the Cubs as well.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​