CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 3: Carlos Marmol #49 of the Chicago Cubs is encouraged by shortstop Starlin Castro #13 in the ninth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 3, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds came from behind to win 4-3. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The Chicago Cubs' bullpen has been pretty bad this season. SB Nation Chicago's Satchel Price thinks it might be the worst bullpen in baseball.
Alright, it's time to talk about the bullpen. Or as I like to call it, "The Vortex of Sadness, presented by the Chicago Cubs."
This was always going to be a hard year for the Cubs' bullpen, we already knew that. Over the winter, the team traded its best reliever to a division rival and moved its second-best reliever to the rotation. You don't remove the two strongest pieces from a seven-piece machine without any problems.
Nobody really had qualms with the moves, though, for two reasons: one, it's the bullpen and you don't get bent out of shape about the bullpen when you're a 70-win team, and two, there was an entirely real chance that Theo would stumble into some surprisingly good pieces.
And while Epstein hasn't really, there's nothing I can really complain about in terms of the process. The Cubs need an effective Jeff Samardzija in the rotation far more than they have ever needed a good set-up man. I'd certainly rather be writing this column, knowing that Samardzija is now dealing in the rotation, than one about Samardzija leading a great Cubs relief crew.
But man, did they really have to leave us with this?
Quickly, let me run through a few things.
Guess which bullpen has the worst strikeout rate in the National League?
Guess which bullpen has the worst walk rate in the big leagues?
Guess which bullpen has the worst xFIP, tERA and SIERA in the bigs?
CUBS. CUBS. CUBS.
We're not talking about a subpar bullpen that's not living up to expectations. Right now, the friendly confines are being treated to probably the least fan-friendly bullpen in all of baseball, assuming that fans go to Wrigley Field to watch winning baseball*.
*Speculation: Not all people at Wrigley Field are there to watch baseball. Shocking, I know.
Surely, there's at least one fan reading this article thinking, "You're complaining about the bullpen?!? Matt Garza can't throw to first base, Ian Stewart plays everyday, Alfonso Soriano won't leave for three more years... the bullpen??!?"
Yeah, the bullpen. Because it simply shouldn't suck this much.
To be clear, things will get better. They'll get better because they have to, in the same sense that you won't tolerate watching the same crappy TV show forever: you won't just keep watching Storage Wars hour after hour, will you? The Cubs have already begun that channel-surfing process, removing struggling pitchers like Kerry Wood, Rodrigo Lopez and Rafael Dolis from the equation in favor of guys like Blake Parker, Randy Wells and Casey Coleman.
But for the most part, what you see in the Cubs bullpen is what you'll get. They'll continue to lean on pleasant surprises like Shawn Camp and James Russell while hoping that guys like Carlos Marmol, Michael Bowden, Lendy Castillo and Dolis can get on track and help out. They'll probably continue to be pretty bad, too.
But maybe not. As I noted before, the bullpen is the kind of place where you can sort of stumble into talent. If you can throw 95, sometimes it only takes a couple small adjustments to go from a Double-A wild card to closing out games for a big league contender. Just ask John Axford, or one of the dozens of other guys out there today that took a similar path.
The Cubs have some intriguing arms in the upper minors that could help this year: Travis Wood, Esmailin Caridad, Manny Corpas, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Jeff Beliveau all could be considered potential options in Triple-A. There's also Alberto Cabrera, a 23-year-old in Double-A with a 2.52 ERA and big strikeout numbers. He may be the most interesting arm of the bunch.
But for now, the Cubs bullpen is a truly rare phenomena in its ability to frustrate me. No matter what enters- a lead, a tie, a deficit, some combination of the three (possibility pending)- sadness is what exits. A James Russell save just isn't sweet when I know that James Russell is my team's best option.
So I'll sit around, and continue to enjoy Cubs games for what they are: an opportunity to watch something far less stressful than Game of Thrones. But man, watching that bullpen is far more brutal than anything I've seen on HBO recently.
Satchel Price is a newsdesk contributor for SB Nation Midwest and a feature columnist for SB Nation Chicago. His baseball writing also appears on MLB Daily Dish and Beyond the Box Score. For more of his splendid whimsy in display,