CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs' bullpen is going to make a liar out of the team's manager. Before the Cubs' latest series-deciding loss, 5-3 to the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday, Joe Maddon declared the bullpen fixes he needs can be found within the organization.
"I believe that the talent pool is absolutely here," Maddon said. "We know Clayton [Richard] is able to do that. Getting [Justin] Grimm back on the mound [is important]. Grimm is one of our lefties actually. We have it right here. We just have to get the performance. We will. I feel confident."
Maddon might be a little less confident after two of his reliable relief arms gave up runs as the Cubs blew a 3-1 seventh-inning lead. Trevor Cahill served up a three-run home run to Tucker Barnhart and one inning later Carl Edwards Jr. threw behind a batter -- he tripped on the mound -- with two outs and a runner on third, allowing a run to score easily.
"We have to really be vigilant not to abuse anybody and make sure everyone is fresh," Maddon said. "It starts with the starting pitchers. [If] the starters are on, the rest of the game is going to play well."
The Cubs haven't abused their relievers outside of Travis Wood, though lately they've been called upon more and more as their starting staff has been coming up short. Adam Warren threw well in his first start of the year on Wednesday, giving up just one run over five innings without walking anyone. But five innings isn't long enough these days -- not with a struggling bullpen. The Cubs' starting staff has finally come back to the pack.
It's happening to a lot of different teams, Maddon said: "Guys are a little fatigued. Let's get through this stretch, get a break, set up on the backside then really pay attention to it [workload]."
The Cubs may not get to the break without giving back a good portion of their huge lead in the NL Central. The Pittsburgh Pirates are finally playing better and host a Cubs team this weekend that will finish a string of 24 games in 24 days. They're worn out, injured and vulnerable. After the game Wednesday, Maddon was asked if he's seeing any disturbing trends while losing four of their past five series, or if this was just a "snapshot" of a long season.
"It's more of a snapshot based on people in and out of the lineup right now," Maddon said. "The bullpen isn't 100 percent. We're experimenting with different things."
Presumably Maddon isn't referencing health as much as effectiveness in the bullpen. And that might be one trend Maddon may want to pay attention to: According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, the Cubs are just 8-7 in their past 15 games in which they've held a lead. They were 44-5 over their first 49 games under the same circumstances. Instead of focusing solely on the bullpen, though, Maddon pointed to his team at the plate as well.
"We're not doing enough to finish games off offensively," Maddon stated.
That's true. When's the last time the Cubs robbed the closer of a save? It has been a while but at least we can point to injuries and assume things will get better when the players get healthy. The Cubs are 6-12 without Dexter Fowler, and with rookies and young players scattered throughout the lineup it's hard to point fingers at a 22 year old and say "There's the problem."
No, the problem is in a makeshift bullpen, which was always a question mark. There's a reason Cahill, Richard and Joel Peralta were available to anyone when the Cubs picked them up. You can cross Peralta off the list, as the Cubs designated him for assignment before the game -- so now it's on to the next arm or two. Will it come via the waiver wire or a big trade?
"We've run into a little bit of a rough patch," Maddon said. "Pitchers get tired, man."
So here is a suggestion: Leave Warren in the rotation until he really falters or the Cubs get more bullpen help. Perhaps an extra day of rest for each starter will allow them to last longer into games, reducing the use of the Cubs' relief staff. It's worth a shot. It sounds like they're considering it.
"Trying to be creative with rest post-break," Maddon said.
The good news is the Cubs will still have a decent lead in the division at the All-Star break no matter what happens the rest of this week -- beating Atlanta on Thursday is no gimme -- but that doesn't mean the feeling surrounding that lead will be a good one. Snapshot or trend?
"I can't connect a bunch of negative dots," Maddon said.
Plenty of Cubs' fans will for him.