SAN DIEGO -- The Chicago Cubs won't announce roster moves until sometime Tuesday as they begin a six-game road trip after a highly successfully home stand. Let's get a head start on what they should do:
Designate for assignment: Phil Coke
The unusual move of employing 14 pitchers will come to an end, as a source confirmed Monday that Coke will be designated for assignment. Monday's off-day allows the bullpen to get back on track after a crazy weekend -- OK, just Friday's game was crazy -- against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It also means the Cubs won't carry four lefty relievers, which is how it would have been set up had Coke stayed with Travis Wood joining Zac Rosscup and James Russell in the bullpen. Russell just returned and has looked pretty good, while Rosscup has become a Cubs manager Joe Maddon favorite (more on that in a moment).
That left Coke as the odd man out. It will cost the Cubs to designate him for assignment, as they could have just sent Rosscup to the minors, but Coke's numbers -- especially against lefties -- just weren't there. Lefties are hitting .304 off him with a .333 on-base percentage. Overall, his ERA is 6.30 in 10 innings pitched. It's a smallish sample size, but it's not a good one. And you don't want to know his numbers when facing righties.
As for Rosscup, Maddon has thrown him into the fire with mixed results. Maybe his overall numbers would look better if he was used almost primarily against left-handed hitters. He's struck out seven of 22 lefties he's faced with a .100 batting average against. Meanwhile, he's given up more home runs (3) to righties than he has hits (2) to lefties. And his ERA is over 4.00 now.
Every manager likes to say their lefties can get out righties, but it's simply not true, and even if the raw numbers prove otherwise they can be skewed. Most of the time, a lefty reliever enters the game to face the other team's best left-handed hitter -- many times some of the best in the game. When he stays in to face the righties, it's usually not the same case. They might take care of the bottom of the order, but when Miguel Cabrera gets back in the batter's box it's back to the righty relievers. So a lefty's numbers might look very productive against some below-average hitting righties while maybe they're not as dominant against the top lefties. Plus, Rosscup is struggling against righties anyway. He gave up two hits and a walk to right-handed hitters on Sunday, not long after giving up back-to-back home runs in Milwaukee to the bottom of the Brewers' lineup.
In any case, Russell is probably the best bet right now for navigating through some right-handed hitters and he might be Maddon's best bet for the higher-leveraged situations in general. At the very least, he and Rosscup should be switching off in those bigger moments as the latter is just learning how to pitch in them.
Unless there's a new injury, Brian Schlitter should probably head back to the minors as Tsuyoshi Wada needs a roster spot. On top of everything else, the Padres are a very right-handed team. Their top six hitters are all righties, so having four lefties in the bullpen is even less of a priority at the moment.
Do the Cubs regret tendering Wood a contract for this season? It's hard to know, but now they have two long-time starters (Edwin Jackson) in the bullpen. That's good for long relief but not so much in the more typical late-inning moments. You can't just snap your fingers and take a starter and bring him in the game with the bases loaded in the eighth inning and expect perfection.
However, Wood's style might work. In some ways he was a long-shot to return to his 2013 All-Star form in the first place. He has to be too fine with his stuff and to manage his command for 32 starts, 6-8 innings at a time seemed like a difficult task. Quick, what pitch of Wood's do you think worries hitters? It's always been his location. He located it near perfectly in 2013, hence the All-Star bid, but the odds of repeating that year-after-year just seemed slim. But what about for an inning or two? That might actually work. He already proved his mental mettle with his first career save against the Pirates over the weekend. Plus, Wood might be best suited against righties as he's faced them as a starter.
"I'm not afraid of him anywhere," Maddon said over the weekend. "Woody, having been a starter, knows how to get out good right-handed hitters, too. The nice thing would be if you have that kind of thickness in the bullpen, then you don't have to beat up somebody daily.
Social media is screaming for a new left fielder as Chris Coghlan is hitting .194 with a .269 on-base percentage. In this case, I don't think the Cubs need to react more than calling up Junior Lake for either of the lefty relievers they move out. For once, the Cubs have some margin for error on offense and can carry Coghlan's numbers -- at least for now. No one works harder than Coghlan, and he might get back on track, so don't count him out.
And why not take Lake's quasi-newfound success out for a spin? Play him against a righty or two. In the minors, he's better than 2 to 1 strikeouts to walks as that's a big improvement for him. He had a similar rate in winter league play. Going into Monday's games, he has 12 walks and 22 strikeouts for Triple-A Iowa. Not bad. And we know he showed some nice spark both in spring training and with the Cubs in an earlier stint. It's worth a shot.
The last thing the Cubs want to do is get caught with an imperfect roster on the West Coast, so they need to straighten it out. Move out a lefty, send Schlitter down, move up Russell's role and use Lake more liberally. The Cubs have an early hold on a wild-card position. After a near-perfect home stand, why stop there?