The Cubs bullpen has quietly gotten on track after a very rough start to the season, but the relief corps took a hit with yesterday’s news that Rowan Wick suffered a left oblique strain. Wick “got some testing done and it’s pretty bad,” manager David Ross told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian and other reporters, and it could mean that Wick might be out of action for the postseason. Wick has a 3.12 ERA, 10.4 K/9, and 3.33 K/BB over 17 1/3 innings this season, with just one home run allowed. He also has four saves this season, though none over the last month as Jeremy Jeffress has recently emerged as Chicago’s top closer option.
The most obvious replacement is Andrew Chafin, who was just activated from his own stint on the injured list. A left finger sprain has kept Chafin out of action since August 17, meaning that Chafin has yet to pitch since the Cubs acquired from the Diamondbacks at the trade deadline. Chafin has an 8.10 ERA this season, though over the small sample size of 6 2/3 innings, and a lot of that damage stems from a July 29th outing that saw Chafin allow three runs to the Rangers without retiring a batter. If Chafin returns to his solid form from the 2015-19 seasons, he could be an important weapon for a Cubs team that has designs on a deep October run.
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- Speaking of the bullpen, Ross said that the Cubs will use Jose Quintana in short stints when he returns from the 10-day injured list. Quintana is expected to return during the Cubs’ upcoming four-game series with the Pirates (beginning on Monday), and the team’s plan is to gradually build up Quintana’s pitch count. But, “if not, if we don’t have that opportunity….then he’ll just stay a bullpen piece and we’ll use him that way,” Ross said. Between Quintana’s recovery from thumb surgery and this current IL stint due to a left lat injury, the southpaw has only made two appearances all season, both as a reliever — these games marked his first work as a relief pitcher since his 2012 rookie season. Assuming no setbacks and a spot on the postseason roster, Quintana could be an intriguing x-factor in the playoffs, theoretically capable of working as a traditional reliever, a multi-inning swingman, a bulk pitcher following an opener, or as an opener himself for the first two or three innings of a bullpen game.
- The Cubs surely won’t exercise their $25MM club option on Jon Lester for the 2021 season, as the veteran left-hander will instead be bought out at the lower sum of $10MM. That said, Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago opines that a reunion between Lester and the Cubs on a lower-cost deal shouldn’t be ruled out, with Lester offering familiarity and veteran leadership to a team that will still need pitching depth. Lester has a 4.91 ERA, 2.92 K/BB rate, and 6.7 K/9 over 51 1/3 innings in 2020, showing only flashes of his past All-Star form. On the plus side, Lester is still very durable, averaging 199 innings per season from 2008-19 with only a few minor IL stints during that stretch. Lester, Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood will all be free agents, leaving Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks as the only locks for Chicago’s 2021 pitching staff. No-hitter hero Alec Mills seems like a solid bet for one rotation spot, and youngsters like Adbert Alzolay, Tyson Miller, or even top prospect Brailyn Marquez will be in competition for the other two jobs, so bringing Lester back as an experienced option makes some sense.