This season has been filled with plenty of questions for Cubs fans as the team tries to re-open a window for postseason contention. How will free agent signees Dansby Swanson and Cody Bellinger fare in Chicago? Should the team hold onto Marcus Stroman to build around, or trade him at the deadline? Is this team actually good?
Many of those questions remain unanswered, but the Cubs seem to have found an answer to another big one: Will anyone emerge as a reliable closer?
Adbert Alzolay has slid into the role over the past few weeks and has thrived in the high-leverage position.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Chicago sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
Alzolay got his first save opportunity of the year on May 6 against the Marlins, and he converted with a completely clean inning. It was an impressive effort, but manager David Ross was still deploying a closer by committee approach and the Cubs didn’t have many save opportunities in the following weeks. Alzolay was relegated back to working the seventh and eighth innings, and the next man to notch a save for the Cubs was Mark Leiter on May 24.
Near the end of May, things took a turn. Alzolay came out for a rare two-inning save in a sterling effort to preserve a 2-1 win over baseball’s best team, the Tampa Bay Rays. The very next day, Leiter imploded and gave up three runs in just 0.1 innings for a blown save. Previously, Leiter had taken on most of the high-leverage late inning work for the Cubs. After that night Ross only put Leiter in to close out a game once moreー a save on June 2. Alzolay on the other hand has finished things five times. Over those five appearances, Alzolay hasn’t given up a single run and he’s cashed in for two saves. No other Cubs pitcher has notched a save since Alzolay took over earlier this month.
The Cubs have been on an unbelievable tear over the past two weeks and have won 10 of their last 12 games. Alzolay’s emergence as a reliable closer is a big part of that. Of course, his performances have helped the Cubs lockdown wins. It’s also helped Ross give other pitchers other more defined roles. For instance, Leiter has taken over the eighth inning work and he’s thrived in his new position, just like Alzolay has thrived in his. Since taking over as the top set-up man on June 9, Leiter hasn’t given up a single runー again, just like Alzolayー and has picked up four holds.
The Cubs are fortunate to play in a weak division this year. Even though they’ve spent most of the year below .500, they’re very much in the mix to win the N.L. Central. After their 8-3 victory over the Pirates on Wednesday, the Cubs are only 3.5 games back of the division-leading Reds. If the Cubs are to continue their red hot pace to gain even more ground, the back end of the bullpen will need to keep up its great play. And if that happens it likely means that Alzolay has continued shutting things down as the team’s closer.