MESA, Ariz. — With the World Series in their sights in 2016, the Cubs traded for the hardest-throwing pitcher in the game in Aroldis Chapman and rode him hard to a championship. When he left as a free agent, they traded for proven, dominant closer Wade Davis for a run at a repeat and leaned on him for an upset in the first round of the playoffs.
This time around, the Cubs are pinning their World Series expectations and final-out hopes on a guy with two saves in the last eight years. And they’re uttering his name in the same breath as those other guys.
Brandon Morrow the next Aroldis Chapman, the next Wade Davis?
“Physically, yes — there’s no question,” manager Joe Maddon said about Morrow, who dominated the Cubs as a shutdown setup man for the Dodgers last October. “Stuff-wise, my God. I don’t want to say he has better stuff because those guys are so good. But equally as good of stuff, talking velocity and the breaking ball.
“On top of that, Brandon knows how to elevate well.”
Morrow, who allowed an unearned run against the Dodgers in his spring debut, will have his workload monitored closely after a track record of injuries.
The idea is to get the kind of ninth-inning production out of Morrow that the Dodgers got in him in the eighth inning last fall — when he pitched in 14 of their 15 postseason games. In 13 of those appearances, he allowed only two runs in 13⅔ innings, then gave up four in Game 5 of the World Series pitching for the third consecutive night.
“It’s a matter of resiliency with him, how many times you can put him out there without beating him up and getting that kind of performance out of him,” said Maddon, who counted at least four options for a save opportunity when he wants to rest Morrow, including former closers Steve Cishek and Justin Wilson.
“And it’s about when he fails,” Maddon added. “How he does after he fails is really going to be important. And it’s going to happen. That’s where we really need to be aware and keep an eye on that.”
First impressions were good, when Morrow pumped fastballs at 95 to 98 mph “without really trying to step on the gas,” Morrow said.
The veteran pitcher has been through enough ups and downs, starting and relieving, including mostly big performances in his first postseason last year, that he exudes as much confidence in his demeanor as he says he has.
“He’s an ‘‘Easy Rider’’ kind of an even-keeled guy,” Maddon said. “Probably a little bit on the serious side. He’s not looking to be the comedian of the team. He’s just looking to be himself. I don’t see a lot of emotion.
“I think he’s got that chip. As he gets a chance to do this job and do it well, that is actually going to help him.”
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