Cubs rule Brandon Morrow out for the remainder of the season; examining their remaining options at closer
Theo Epstein made the announcement before Tuesday night's game
Oft-injured Cubs closer Brandon Morrow was exceptional when he was able to pitch this season, but it's going to end with just 35 appearances. Morrow has been dealing with biceps inflammation for a large chunk of the season, but was hoping to return at some point this week. Instead, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein announced Tuesday that Morrow has been shut down for the season.
Morrow, 34, saved 22 games in 24 chances with a 1.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 31 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings this season. He only allowed run(s) in three of his 35 appearances.
The last time he was able to pitch, though, was July 15, the last game before the All-Star break. His entire arm has been through so much in his career, it seems unlikely he'll ever be able to withstand a full season again at this point. He is signed with the Cubs through next season and will make $9 million.
The Cubs have had a great bullpen all season (their 3.30 reliever ERA is fourth in baseball and they rank sixth in save percentage), but the depth is being tested at present.
Pedro Strop had really settled in as Morrow's replacement, but he pulled his hamstring last Thursday and won't return in the regular season. He'll have to heal quickly in order to impact the Cubs' playoff plans, at least in the NLDS (or Wild Card Game, should they blow their lead).
There are still good pieces. Steve Cishek is having a good year, as is Justin Wilson. Wilson has been outstanding of late, posting a 0.82 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 12 strikeouts in 11 innings since Aug. 2. New additions Jesse Chavez (1.44 ERA with the Cubs) and Jorge De La Rosa (1.59) have proven excellent options so far. Carl Edwards Jr. went through a recent funk, but we know about his high upside.
Those would seem to be the best late-game, high-leverage options for Joe Maddon. He gave us a glimpse of how he might deploy them on Saturday in a 1-0 victory over the Reds. Wilson worked a clean eighth and then Chavez, lefty Randy Rosario and Cishek each got one out in the ninth. The previous day, De La Rosa recorded the first save of his career in shutting down the Reds in the ninth.
Former starter Jaime Garcia has also worked three scoreless innings in relief in the past few days.
Losing Morrow is a blow, but the Cubs haven't had him all second half. The key for October is to get Strop back and on top of his game. In the meantime, Maddon will lean on a mix Wilson, Cishek, Chavez, De La Rosa and Edwards in the biggest spots with some Rosario and Garcia possibly thrown in.
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