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Power of the Cubs’ pen increases with return of Strop

Pedro Strop

If the Kansas City Royals’ deep reserve of shutdown power relievers inspired the blueprint for modern-day World Series runs, then consider Cubs brass the contractors staring at the picture and ordering materials,

A simulated game by setup man Pedro Strop went well enough Tuesday that his return from the disabled list has been scheduled for Friday’s series opener against the Cardinals. And the Cubs have mapped out regular appearances for him over the final 10 games to get him sharp again by playoff time.

“That’s very important to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Of course, in the next breath Maddon pointed out one of his bigger surprises of the season: The Cubs performed well for more than three weeks without both Strop and setup ace Hector Rondon, the former closer.

Strop hasn’t pitched since Aug. 10 because of a knee injury and then a groin injury suffered during rehab. A triceps strain sidelined Rondon from the second game of a doubleheader on Aug. 16 through Sept. 5.

The Cubs went 15-5 over that stretch, adding four games to their division lead over the second-place Cardinals. Fifteen of those games were decided by three or fewer runs, including eight one-run decisions.

“That really surprised me,” Maddon said. “I’m not denigrating the group that did well. I’m just saying I really thought they were that important to us being able to win 90-plus games this year.”

What it says about the Cubs’ bullpen if both are healthy through October could be profound. Rondon might have been the best closer in the National League before moving to the setup role when triple-digit lefty Aroldis Chapman was acquired at the trade deadline; Strop was the primary setup man for the team with the best record in baseball.

And if power-stuff relievers Justin Grimm and Carl Edwards Jr. continue to perform as they have, the Cubs can stack their bullpen deeper with reliable power than they could last year – rivaling any of the handful of playoff pens in franchise history.

“The acquisition of Aroldis, right now you can really understand how important it was,” Maddon said.

Notes: Maddon said team president Theo Epstein recently brought up “out of a clear blue sky” the idea of taking days off to recharge, the same way the team has done with players. “It’s not crazy by any means,” said Maddon, who doesn’t foresee the need anytime soon. “Right now I don’t know how I would do it and I don’t know what I would do with my self” … Outfielder Jorge Soler (tightness in side), who anticipated being cleared to be available off the bench Tuesday, was held back one more day. He hasn’t played since leaving Friday’s game with pain. … Grimm also threw a simulated game Tuesday. Maddon said that was just to get him work as the club tapers his late-season workload … First baseman Anthony Rizzo’s 40th double Monday night, along with his 31 home runs, made him only the fourth “40-30” player in Cubs history (Rogers Hornsby 1929, Derrek Lee 2005, Alfonso Soriano 2007).