The Chicago Cubs have started the season 4-1, but it’s clear they can’t rely in Craig Kimbrel to recapture his previous form.
With an 8-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds Tuesday night, the Chicago Cubs moved to 4-1 on the young, shortened season. On Monday night, they won in spite of a bullpen that made it interesting after they led 7-0 and 8-1. Craig Kimbrel was the lead offender of that late inning meltdown.
Kimbrel lasted just one-third of an inning Monday night, with two runs charged to him as he issued four walks and hit a batter. Just 13 of his 34 pitches went for strikes. Jeremy Jeffress replaced him in the ninth inning to salvage an 8-7 win. One outing is not enough to draw conclusions, but Kimbrel’s struggles go back further than one outing this year.
During the 2018 playoffs with the Boston Red Sox, Kimbrel walked eight batters in 10.2 innings and posted a 5.91 ERA. From June 1 on during that regular season, he walked 25 batters over 37.1 innings (6.0 BB/9).
After failing to get what he was looking for in free agency, and when draft pick compensation attached to him went away, Kimbrel signed a three-year, $43 million deal with the Cubs on June 7, 2019. Knee and elbow issues put him on the IL, and he ended up with a 6.53 ERA with 13 saves in 16 chances over 23 appearances (20.2 innings).
Kimbrel’s fastball velocity dropped over one MPH from 2018, to 96.3 last year according to FanGraphs. He averaged 96.3 MPH on his fastball Monday night, and per FanGraphs it’s worth noting he threw his curveball (really a knuckle curve) 15 times in 34 pitches.
Kimbrel got the night off Tuesday night, and the Cubs bullpen allowed three runs in three innings behind starter Alec Mills. Not great, but also not a singular meltdown from Casey Sadler, Kyle Ryan or Ryan Tepera.
Kimbrel’s leash has to be short. A short 2019 season with a typical spring training ramp up has to be noted, as does the obvious unique circumstances of this season. But with each game taking on greater importance in a 60-game season, the Cubs can’t count on Kimbrel to find his previous form while he walks a tightrope and starts to turn wins into losses.