Junichi Tazawa is set to arrive in Cubs camp on Monday after working out visa issues that delayed his arrival, per the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales. Tazawa remains a long shot to make the Cubs Opening Day roster, as he hasn’t been an asset to a major league bullpen since 2016 with the Red Sox. After posting a 7.07 ERA for the Marlins and Angels last season, Tazawa looks to re-establish himself in Cubs camp for former employer Theo Epstein, though again, the window of opportunity in Chicago is slim. Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek, Mike Montgomery, Brandon Kintzler, and newcomer Brad Brach all figure to hold down spots in the Chicago pen, leaving Tazawa to compete for the final remaining innings with Xavier Cedeno, Tyler Chatwood, Alec Mills, Brian Duensing, Dillon Maples, Randy Rosario, and a few others. Brandon Morrow’s injury provides a limited-time opportunity for someone, but he’ll obviously take over one of those open spots when he returns for the injured list. Here are a few more notes from the Cubs bullpen and the rest of the NL Central…
- A couple weeks before being traded from the Orioles to the Braves last season, reliever Brad Brach noticed his arm slot had shifted higher than usual, writes the Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. When his release point shifts over-the-top, Brach loses some of the deception in his delivery and changes the plane of his pitch movement. He is cognizant, however, that he’s more effective as he stays closer to a three-quarters delivery. The mechanical adjustment certainly seemed to help as he turned in 23 2/3 innings of 1.52 ERA ball after joining the Braves. His peripherals don’t wholly buy the shift in performance, but his fastball command certainly improved and that’s the foundation of his arsenal. Of course, the revelation is only one part of the process, as refining and automating the lower arm slot will continue to be a process as he starts throwing again this season. If Brach can repeat his delivery consistently, he may prove to be a significant addition to a Cubs pen who needs the help.
- Brach should have no trouble keeping his competitive edge with the Cubs, who are facing a dogfight in a tight National League Central. There’s no tanking here, where the Reds have raised the floor with marked improvements to their rotation this offseason. The Cardinals and Brewers have made obvious win-now additions this winter as well, and while the Cubs have largely stood pat (excepting additions like Brach above), there’s little doubt they will be in the competitive mix once again. The sleeper in the division and maybe the league is the Pirates, per Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The PECOTA projection system has the Pirates ahead of the Cubs, and though they’ve been quiet this winter, their biggest additions were made at least year’s deadline when they traded for Chris Archer and Keone Kela. It would certainly be a surprise for the Pirates to steal the NL Central from such a crowded field, but they’re only three years removed from the most successful stretch in recent franchise history and they finished above .500 last season. A Pirates division title would be surprising, for sure, but it’s not inconceivable.
- In a video for CBS Sports, Jim Bowden expresses optimism that Paul Goldschmidt will outperform both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado en route to an MVP-type season. Goldschmidt should certainly bolster the Cardinals offense in 2019, though his long-term future with the club remains uncertain. The Cardinals are pursuing an extension with Goldschmidt, and given the current free agent market, Goldy would be wise to at least consider locking up his long-term future now if the offer is fair.