While the Cubs aren’t giving up hope that closer Brandon Morrow will make it back to the majors this year, manager Joe Maddon did not paint a terribly optimistic picture in comments to reporters including MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat. Morrow has been out since mid-July with a biceps injury.
Notably, the 34-year-old hurler has yet to begin throwing from a mound. Even if he’s cleared to do so in the near-term, Maddon explains, there’s simply a crunch for time. As the skipper put it, there is “barely” enough room on the calendar for a return late this month.
That’s obviously worrisome news for a club that’s trying to protect a three-game lead in the division and launch an extended postseason run. Morrow, who signed a two-year, $21MM deal in the offseason, had been in excellent form to open the year. In his first 30 2/3 frames in a Cubs uniform, he racked up 22 saves and posted a 1.47 ERA with 9.1 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9.
Whatever one may think of the Cubs’ replacement options when trying to protect late-game leads, the absence of Morrow greatly diminishes the overall vitality of the club’s relief unit. Of course, his long history of injury problems helps explain why the Chicago organization got such a reasonable price on a pitcher coming off of a dominant season.
At the time of the injury, the hope seemed to be that Morrow would only need a brief respite. How the Cubs weighed the uncertainy in plotting mid-season moves isn’t really known. The club picked up Brandon Kintzler and Jesse Chavez, but did not land a pitcher who’d clearly function as a replacement. While the former has more experience as a late-inning reliever, the latter has been far the better pitcher over the last several weeks.
Now, with the deadline to add postseason-eligible players from outside the organization already having passed, the Cubs won’t be able to do anything to bolster their bullpen other than add some late-regular-season depth. Fortunately, there are a few worthwhile options still on hand. Kintzler and Chavez are still beneath Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, and Carl Edwards Jr., on the Cubs’ depth chart. Each of those three righties has high-leverage experience and a sub-3.00 ERA for the 2018 season.
Perhaps it’s still hypothetically possible for Morrow to return in the postseason, even if he’s not able to make it back before the calendar flips to October. That would be complicated by the lack of rehab outing possibilities, but certainly isn’t outside the realm of possibility — particularly for an organization that recently engineered an even more dramatic postseason injury return.