Brad Brach Has Become Death Knell for Cubs

Like a white flag sans blue W, Brad Brach has essentially come to signify the Cubs giving up on a game. Though their results are dependent upon far more than a single relief pitcher, the team’s results in games Brach appears in have been alarmingly bad. And they’re getting worse.

Bear in mind that the tweet above was sent out at 6:44pm Monday evening, prior to Brach’s appearances in both losses in San Francisco. Which means the Cubs have now lost 18 of the last 21 games in which he has pitched, including 10 in a row. Even though correlation doesn’t always equal causation, we’re not exactly talking about a lights-out pitcher being stung by bad luck.

In fact, Brach was the beneficiary of very good fortune in his first 19 appearances, over which time the Cubs were 11-8. The veteran reliever’s 2.45 ERA said he was doing pretty well, but the peripherals practically screamed that he was standing on the tracks while a train was coming through.

Brach walked as many batters (18) as he struck out and his FIP (4.21), xFIP (5.61), SIERA (6.43) all told more truth than their more common counterpart. What’s more, he had not allowed a homer over 18.1 innings despite a 30.2% fly-ball and 44.2% hard-hit rate. Like the mayor of Amity Island, no one seemed to have recognized what was really going on until the regression shark swam up and bit him on the ass.

In the 19 games since (20.1 IP), that ERA has jumped to 9.30 and Brach has allowed three home runs, including Tuesday’s night’s walk-off to Pablo Sandoval. But his peripherals have all improved dramatically from the first half, with attractive 11.84 K/9 and 3.79 marks and all those other earned-run numbers at 3.88 or better. Even his hard contact has gone down, though his BABIP in that time has rocketed to .491. Yikes.

What’s more, the velocity about which we’ve been concerned since Brach was still a trade target with the Orioles (see here, here, and here) has gotten significantly better. Since averaging just 93.1 mph over that earlier sample above, Brach’s heater is up to 94.6 mph over the more recent period. But it was only at 93.8 Tuesday night, his third straight day of action, which brings up the real question.

Why on earth was Brach out there at all, let alone to pitch a second inning, when Tyler Chatwood was available? You remember Chatwood, right? Unless you’ve forgotten because he’s only pitched two innings in July because of what Joe Maddon said Tuesday were just situational anomalies. But that means Maddon and his staff felt Brach for the third consecutive game was a better option than Chatwood on *literally counts on fingers* eight days’ rest.

Since the start of July, Chatwood has pitched two innings with no runs allowed on one hit and no walks and one strikeout. Brach has pitched five innings with six earned on eight hits (two homers) and three walks with five strikeouts. I. Do. Not. Understand. What. In. The. Actual. Hell. Is. Going. On. Here.

The only plausible explanation is that Chatwood has been involved in trade talks with a team that would like to use him as a starter and would be willing to eat a good chuck of his salary. Given the understanding that the Cubs needing to get creative just to fit in the prorated remainder of Nicholas Castellanos’s $9.95 million salary (roughly $3.75 million at this point), Chatwood is a pretty obvious candidate to free up space.

But if the Cubs are really just dry-humping Chatwood on occasion rather than actually pitching him because of potential trades, they’re further restricting a woefully thin roster. Daniel Descalso has languished on the bench for the better part of the last two months because he’s still occupying a spot despite supplying negative value. Chatwood and Descalso have not appeared in the same game since June 27, for what it’s worth.

With full awareness that there’s plenty going on behind the scenes we’ll never be privy to, this whole situation has been quite vexing. On one hand, you shrug off Brach’s usage as a function of Maddon having to pitch him because the situation dictates it. Then you look at the results and Chatwood’s complete non-usage and you throw your hands up in surrender.

And that’s where I’m at, I give up trying to understand this team. Until and unless something happens over the next week to clarify exactly what’s been going on with the bullpen and the bottom of the roster, I’m going to have to stop asking why Maddon’s doing what he’s doing. And that’s a realization I probably should have come to a long time ago.

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