Cubs might go to closer by committee with Brandon Morrow still out

ByJesse Rogers ESPN logo
Thursday, September 6, 2018

MILWAUKEE -- It's looking like theChicago Cubswill be forced into a closer-by-committee strategy as they head toward October.

That's the vibe manager Joe Maddon gave off on Wednesday when asked if there was enough time to get ailing right-handerBrandon Morrow back.

"Barely," Maddon said. "We're very much aware of that. Would love to have him back; but even if he does come back, how do you utilize that, because you can't just push him two days in a row."

Morrow had 22 saves in the first half of the season, but the closer has been out since the All-Star break with a biceps issue that isn't getting worse -- but it's not getting better. Morrow still can't throw off a mound. He has been playing catch in the outfield every few days, but he hasn't progressed any further than that.

So Maddon will continue to mix and match, though he has used Pedro Strop in the closer's role more often than not. Strop has 11 saves but has never done the job on a full-time basis, nor in October.

"In a perfect world, you probably will see Strop at the end of the game," Maddon admitted. "We have other guys capable of getting the last three outs."

Maddon won't be afraid to call on them. He pulled Strop recently in the ninth when the right-hander allowed the first two batters to reach base. Maddon could go to Steve Cishek, who has 124 career saves but only four in the past two seasons. Midseason pickup Jesse Chavez has five career saves, including two for the Cubs since being acquired in July.

Then there's lefty Justin Wilson, who was the Detroit Tigers closer before being traded to the Cubs in 2017. He could be a candidate, but his command seems to come and go, making him a risky ninth-inning proposition. Same goes for right-hander Carl Edwards Jr.

There's no perfect answer here.

"When you have an anchor at the end, you can manage the game differently up to that point," Maddon said. "When you don't have that, you have to manipulate it. There's no question about that."

The playoffs can be a minefield of tough decisions for a skipper, especially without a closer. But Maddon has been there before. His 2008 Tampa Bay Rays got to the World Series using a closer-by-committee strategy.

"That Rays team got that far without that one designated guy," Maddon said. "Is it more difficult? Probably. I'm not denying that, but it can be done."

Maddon had the luxury of a workhorse in Aroldis Chapman in 2016 and a proven anchor Wade Davis last season. But if Morrow doesn't return, he'll join fellow formerLos Angeles DodgerYu Darvish on the shelf for the season; both righties pitched in Game 7 of the World Series last year.