It seems like forever since the Chicago Cubs had a good bullpen, never mind a good closer, but 2014 has given Cubs fans some hope. This year we have seen some of the best late inning pitching in baseball thanks to setup man Neil Ramirez and Closer Hector Rondon. The duo entered this season completely under the radar and almost completely without major league experience. Hector Rondon entered 2014 as a second-year middle-reliever who had an underwhelming rookie season and Ramirez was just trying to make the major league roster, but recently they have emerged as one of the best one-two punches in baseball.
This year Neil Ramirez has an ERA of 1.00 and a WHIP of 0.778 in 18 innings of work, and Hector Rondon has an ERA of 2.28 and a WHIP of 1.157 and eight saves in his 27.2 innings of work. Honestly, no one saw this coming. So we must ask the question, where the heck did these guys come from?
The Cubs acquired Neil Ramirez from the Texas Rangers in the 2013 deadline deal involving Matt Garza. Ramirez was overshadowed by, then Rangers’ top prospect, Mike Olt and Justin Grimm, who has been a strong out of the bullpen for the Cubs since his acquisition. Ramirez, then a decent starting pitcher, was sent to AAA. He began working out of the bullpen this season and after just seven innings in AAA, in which he posted an ERA of 7.71, he was called up to the major leagues to replace an injured Jose Veras. Ramirez hasn’t looked back since.
The Cubs acquired Hector Rondon from the Cleveland Indians in the Rule 5 draft prior to the 2013 season. Per the rules of the draft, Rondon was placed on the Cubs major league roster. In his rookie season, the hard-throwing righty was unimpressive, posing a 4.77 ERA and an ERA+ of 83, per baseball-reference.com (league average is 101). Rondon got off to a hot start in 2014, and due to inconsistency and injuries to Jose Veras and Pedro Strop, he soon took over the closer role and, like Ramirez, hasn’t looked back.
This could be a great combination for the Cubs for the next few years as Ramirez (25) and Rondon (26) are just entering their primes. The key to a solid bullpen is stability at the back end and the Cubs have proven that they have a real strong group, headlined by Ramirez and Rondon. The Cubs, as a team, may still be a few years away from seriously contending, but their bullpen can go toe to toe with anyone right now.
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