Chicago Cubs fans knew heading into the 2023 season that the bullpen was going to shaky at the beginning of the year, but that in short time things would sort themselves out like they have in previous seasons. Well, after seven weeks, the bullpen has still been broken, but there are at least a few Cubs relievers showing that they can be a solution to fix.
We already know about the two guys who have been consistently good. Mark Leiter Jr., besides his last outing against the Houston Astros, has been awesome and so has Adbert Alzolay. Both of those righties should get the bulk of high leverage opportunities moving forward and I still want David Ross to actually trust young righty Jeremiah Estrada. But hey, if he prefers a few of the older pitchers, then start turning to Julian Merryweather and Nick Burdi.
I know these weren’t high leverage spots, as the Cubs were blowing out the Philadelphia Phillies Friday night, when Merryweather and Burdi came in, but those guys can something that everyone else in that bullpen can’t. Let’s start with Merryweather, who has actually been pretty good for a while.
Merryweather had a terrible Cubs debut, giving up five earned runs against the Milwaukee Brewers in the first series of the season. The right-hander only recorded two outs, after allowing five hits and two walks. However, since that awful appearance, Merryweather has recorded a 2.65 ERA in 17 innings.
On Friday, Merryweather tossed two perfect innings against the Phillies, striking out two and hitting the strike zone on 18 of his 23 pitches. Since his first game, Merryweather has 20 strikeouts to four walks in 16 relief appearances. Aside from the better results, Merryweather’s fastball velocity has also gone up a tick this week.
Prior to his outing Tuesday against the Astros, Merryweather had thrown a total of 4 pitches at 98mph or faster. On Tuesday, he threw 2 pitches at 98mph and on Friday night he more than doubled his season total, throwing 8 pitches at or above 98mph.
It’s not that throwing hard is a guarantee of good results, but when you have that ability to overpower hitters, you give those guys a chance in tough spots. Too many times, other Cubs relievers have been beat despite not making bad pitches, but when you rely on weak contact to get outs, it opens the door for more hits to fall in.
And that brings me to Burdi.
First of all, read about Nick Burdi if you haven’t.
Second, in the ninth inning of Friday’s game, Burdi struck out Kyle Schwarber on a 101mph fastball.
This is the hardest pitch thrown by a Cubs pitcher since Aroldis Chapman in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.
Burdi threw 11 fastballs against the Phillies and averaged 98.4mph on them.
Yeah, you want elite velocity in your bullpen and the Cubs finally have it again. A lot of other guys haven’t gotten the job done, or have been up and down this year, so give these dudes more of a shot.
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