So, about that deeply troubled Cubs rotation? Reliever Andrew Chafin knows a guy who’d be willing and able to jump in and help it, if asked.
“Honestly?” he says. “I think I have the stuff to go be a starter right now.”
He’s serious about having it. He’s not serious about lobbying for it. How would a 31-year-old left-hander with three career starts, all in 2014 — not to mention one who warms up before games in a T-shirt with ‘‘Failed Starter’’ across the chest — even begin to make a case?
That ship probably sailed in 2015, when the Diamondbacks put him in the bullpen four years after drafting him in the first round. He has made a career of it, remaining in the D-backs’ pen picture until joining the Cubs in a trade at the deadline last season. But 2021 has been his breakout — in every way.
Chafin brought a 1.59 ERA, an .824 WHIP and 20 consecutive scoreless appearances into the Cubs’ weekend series in Cincinnati. He’s riding a wave of never-before-experienced popularity because of his lights-out pitching, his wild man’s intensity, his explosion of curly hair to go with a must-see mustache and his hilariously open-book social-media presence as @BigCountry1739 on Instagram and Twitter — none of which, by the way, aside from his elite mound performance, would register a damn bit if Cubs fans weren’t the enormously engaged and welcoming lot they are.
“Coming to Chicago is a night-and-day difference for me,” he says. “The amount of support you get from the fans, even if you have a rough day or whatever, they still are there supporting you. And the amount of energy coming from them during a game, throughout the whole game — knowing the situations without having to be told when to stand up and cheer in the big situations and stuff — it’s just such an exciting experience to be a part of.”
So, about the upcoming All-Star Game in Denver and the roster announcements coming Sunday? Of course, Chafin would love to be a part of it. Maybe he should be, although closers — such as the Cubs’ Craig Kimbrel, the ninth inning to Chafin’s usual eighth — tend to gobble up Midsummer Classic bullpen spots. It’s a bit of a long shot.
“I’m trying to not think of it whatsoever,” Chafin says. “It’s an ‘I got a job to do today’ kind of thing.”
But if he does get the call, here’s an idea: an ‘‘Invisible All-Star’’ shirt. If Kris Bryant and Javy Baez are there, they’ll be swarmed by media wanting to ask them about their impending free-agent status and the trade deadline. National Leaguers Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuna Jr. and Jacob deGrom will be among the Elvises of the event. The sexual-assault allegations against reigning NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer will be a heated topic.
Chafin will be on the pay-no-mind list.
“I wouldn’t have to worry about anybody wanting to talk to me,” he says. “It would be great. I could just show up, hang out, watch it, enjoy it and go about my business. I’ll go start interviewing people because nobody will want to talk to me. It’ll be great.”
Chafin is the best high-leverage reliever, outside of the closer, on his team, an elevated role compared with the ones he filled in Arizona. Temperamentally speaking, the role suits him. This is a pitcher who needed Tommy John surgery after his freshman season at Kent State and, frankly, had no F’s to give at all. Fears, that is.
This is a lefty who took the ball June 24 in a combined no-hitter with Zach Davies, Ryan Tepera and Kimbrel and felt zero pressure. OK, so he didn’t realize at the time a no-no was in effect.
“But my skin is so damn thick coming into this stuff, it doesn’t matter,” he says. “My attitude and perception of things work really well in this game.
“I have the best don’t-give-a-[expletive] attitude you can have with stuff. Like, everything’s going to be what it’s going to be. Might as well go out and give your best, whatever you’re doing, and it’s either going to work out or it ain’t. So go for it.”
In Arizona, Chafin’s hair usually was shaved close to the scalp. The mustache has been alive and roaring all the while. But he’s having loads of fun with his current look, and his philosophy about that applies to everything else.
“Lettin’ it roll,” he says. “See what happens.”
On Tuesday in Milwaukee, the failed starter stopped in front of the visiting dugout on his way to the clubhouse at the end of his pregame workout. Spotting a fan in the second row, he lofted a ball impossibly high over the protective netting that came down — rather incredibly — into the glove of the young man, who didn’t have to move so much as an inch. Chafin threw his hands into the air as though he just had won Game 7.
He’s just a bullpen dude.
“Generally speaking,” he says, “if you do good down there, you’ve kind of, I don’t know, signed your life sentence for that one. I’ve had fairly good success out of the pen, and I’m a reliever. And I’m good with it.”
The Cubs are, too. And then some.