The Chicago Cubs are currently 29-49 and are in last place in the NL Central. While no one expects Chicago to jump from a rebuilding club to a playoff team in the second half of the season, fans would love to see the Cubs turn things around and at least make some progress in the next 80 games. While prospect Anthony Rizzo has finally arrived and earned three game-winning RBIs in his first week, the team's bullpen has been key in a current 5-1 stretch.
The Cubs completed a three-game sweep over the Houston Astros on Sunday, July 1, and the team's relief pitchers did not allow a run in the series. In eight total relief appearances, Cubs relievers allowed Astros hitters only two hits over 5.2 innings. For fans, one of the highlights of the series was closer Carlos Marmol's apparent return to form. Marmol earned a save in each game, striking out five and walking only one in 2.2 innings. Scott Maine, Manuel Corpas, James Russell and Shawn Camp also made scoreless appearances in the Astros series.
The team's bullpen finally seems healthy and players are finding their roles as Marmol regains his confidence in the closer's spot. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work to be done. Cubs relievers rank 25th in the major leagues with a 4.48 ERA and have collected 16 losses so far this season. However, the bullpen has not lost a game since Camp was the losing pitcher against the Red Sox on June 17.
Cubs relievers will now try to keep their momentum going in two final first-half series against the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets. The bullpen's one bad game last week came in a 17-1 defeat against the Mets when Casey Coleman surrendered seven runs and Rafael Dolis added one. The team still won the series, though, as relief pitchers allowed only one run over eight innings in the other two games, both Cubs wins.
After the all-star break, the Cubs will likely try to improve the future of the team by trading players from the current roster. As younger players are given more playing time, fans may have to continue suffering through more losses than wins. However, if the offense continues to get the clutch hits it managed over the past week, the bullpen will have more opportunities to hold leads and help the Cubs attempt to climb a few spots in the standings.
Mike Patton is a sports fan who grew up in New Orleans cheering for the New Orleans Saints, Chicago Cubs, and LSU Tigers. As a kid in 1987, he made his first trip to Wrigley Field and also slept outside of the Louisiana Superdome to purchase playoff tickets for the Saints' first postseason appearance. Follow Mike on twitter @MikePattonGBS.