WASHINGTON — Forget the havoc that the weather caused the Cubs this weekend at Nationals Park.
The bigger concern as the Cubs launch into a 20-game sprint toward what they hope is a long and prosperous October is a bullpen that has sprung as many leaks as a Washington basement this weekend.
Worse yet, it’s looking more doubtful that any significant help is on the way.
Case in point: shutdown closer Brandon Morrow (22-for-24 in save chances, 1.47 ERA).
He hasn’t pitched since the All-Star break, primarily because of a bone bruise that developed in his elbow, and a bullpen session Sunday was supposed to be his next big test toward planning a timelime for his return.
Instead, his 25-pitch bullpen session was characterized as more “touch and feel” and “light” than any kind of test of velocity, stuff or the health of his arm.
Morrow and the team are expected to have more to say Monday, but for now it doesn’t sound like the stuff of October promise.
And left-hander Drew Smyly, whose sharp rehab appearance and bullpen sessions in recent weeks had manager Joe Maddon describing his potential activation as “intriguing,” now seems to be talking out a more cautious path with the medical staff and front office.
“He did throw the other day, but I don’t know exactly what they’ve decided upon yet,” Maddon said Sunday of Smyly, who had Tommy John surgery in 2017.
Beyond the anticipated return to the bullpen of left-hander Mike Montgomery at the end of the season, the Cubs likely will navigate late nights in October with a mix-and-match formula involving Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr., Justin Wilson, Jesse Chavez, Pedro Strop, Jorge De La Rosa and possibly Randy Rosario, Brian Duensing, Dillon Maples or James Norwood.
When Sunday’s game against the Nationals was rained out, Montgomery lost a start.
The Cubs plan to stick with Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks for their three-game showdown against the second-place Brewers.
They haven’t announced a starter for Thursday’s makeup game in Washington, with their options including Cole Hamels on a normal fifth day or bringing back Montgomery and providing the rest of the rotation an extra day the next time through.
Either way, the Cubs expect to see Cy Young frontrunner Max Scherzer (17-6, 2.31 ERA) for the third time in barely a month.
Scherzer, who leads the majors in innings pitched and strikeouts, has allowed three runs in 16 innings against the Cubs, including his victory in a 10-3 complete game Saturday.
Recently acquired Terrance Gore, who stole three bases in two appearances against the Nationals, is as fast as any player Maddon has had in four seasons in Chicago.
It gives him 25 steals in 29 career tries over parts of five big-league seasons, plus another 4-for-5 in the postseason. He even got his first hit Saturday, against Scherzer, in 16 career plate appearances.
Despite his limitations in the field and at the plate, he’s building a compelling case to make the Cubs find a spot for him on the playoff roster.
“He’s definitely an interesting cat to have on a team, man,” said Maddon. “If you ever went to a 26-man roster, he might be like the perfect fit during the regular season, having somebody like him.”
How about a 25-man roster in October?
Maddon said he hasn’t started to consider ways to make that happen yet.
“I just want to get there,” he said.