First baseman Anthony Rizzo has been around the Cubs long enough to know that the bullpen hasn’t always been this good.
‘‘If you were around four or five years ago, you sometimes scratched your head with people coming in,’’ he said. ‘‘But on this team, everyone who comes into the game, we have complete confidence in. It’s pretty unique.’’
Relievers Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler and Pedro Strop salvaged the Cubs’ 5-4 victory Saturday against the Padres at Wrigley Field, retiring all 10 batters they faced.
The Cubs scored all five of their runs in the second inning, and it was up to Cishek, Kintzler and Strop to hold a one-run lead from the sixth on. Cishek, who hasn’t allowed a hit in five outings, struck out three of the four batters he faced. Kintzler pitched a perfect eighth, and Strop rebounded from a two-run outing Friday to seal the victory.
‘‘He’s a beast,’’ Cishek said of Strop. ‘‘I love watching him pitch. I knew when he was going out there today he would be nails. That’s just part of being a relief pitcher. If you have a rough one, you’re probably going to get called on the next day to go out there. So you have to have a short-term memory.’’
Strop has taken to the closer role while Brandon Morrow recovers from inflammation in his right biceps. Strop has a career-high seven saves and has blown only one chance since taking over for Morrow on July 19.
The closing experience among members of the Cubs’ bullpen might be the edge the team needs down the stretch and in the postseason. Cishek closed for the Marlins and Mariners, racking up 117 saves in 2012-16, and Kintzler closed for the Twins in 2016-17, collecting 46 saves.
Manager Joe Maddon tapped Strop for the job, even though he had less experience than others in the role.
‘‘I just think that it was an easy decision for Joe because anybody could close a game in there,’’ Strop said. ‘‘He could have used me, he could have used C.J. [Edwards], he could have used Cishek and Kintzler’s here. We have the most experience as closers. That’s the reason I say it shouldn’t be that difficult for him to make that decision.’’
The Cubs’ bullpen has a 3.27 ERA in 409 2/3 innings. Relievers are striking out 8.7 batters per nine innings and have a better than 2-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Newcomers Jesse Chavez and Kintzler, both of whom were acquired in trades last month, have combined to post a 1.46 ERA in their first 10 appearances with the Cubs.
While fans have been waiting anxiously for the rotation to find its form, the bullpen has thrived.
‘‘We have a really, really good mix with young and veteran guys,’’ Strop said. ‘‘And they keep adding more veteran guys, which is good for us. We feel like we are set in the bullpen and can compete with any bullpen in the league.’’
Kyle Schwarber hit his 20th home run, becoming the first Cubs outfielder since Alfonso Soriano to have back-to-back seasons with 20 or more. Rizzo hit his 182nd homer with the Cubs, surpassing Soriano for 11th in franchise history.
Kyle Hendricks faced the minimum nine batters without allowing a hit through three innings, but he yielded three runs in the fourth and another in the sixth before giving way to Cishek. The pen took it from there.
‘‘They were huge,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘It didn’t look like a one-run ballgame the way they were pitching — coming in, attacking the strike zone, made huge pitches when they needed to. Yeah, that was awesome to see.’’