Despite Shaky Debut, Brailyn Marquez Could Still Be Bullpen ‘Option’ in Playoffs

A 67.50 ERA and three times as many walks as strikeouts wouldn’t normally set a young pitcher up for a postseason roster spot, but Brailyn Marquez isn’t a normal pitcher and this sure as you-know-what isn’t a normal season. Called up for the final game of the regular season and handed a mop in the 8th inning with a 10-1 lead, Marquez showed all the nerves you’d expect from a player pitching above A-ball for the first time.

He walked the first two batters he faced while throwing almost exclusively fastballs with little sense for the zone, then coaxed a groundout before getting AL MVP frontrunner José Abreu swinging with a tantalizing combination of pitches capped off by a high heater at 99.4 mph. Then he issued another walk and gave up consecutive singles before being lifted without completing his first inning of work. But he did manage to reach triple digits and provided a preview of how nasty his secondaries can be.

Had the Cubs really planned to lean on Marquez as a legit bullpen option this postseason, they’d have promoted him earlier to let him work that nervousness out. Calling him up as late as they did was really just a way to throw fans a bone and give the young lefty a shot in a low-leverage outing. Or was it? While it was mostly a teaser for 2021 or ’22, it’s still possible we’ll see Marquez again in the postseason.

Theo Epstein told reporters that Marquez remains an “option” for the Cubs in a postseason that will have fewer off-days than usual. That probably won’t be a concern if they just sweep right through every series, but common sense tells us a few pitchers might get gassed over the course of 5-7 consecutive games. That could open the door for Marquez, whose potential role is far from unprecedented.

Lefty David Price was the Rays’ top pitching prospect in 2008 and he came up in mid-September to make five appearances (one start) before serving as an integral member of the eventual World Series runners-up. Brandon Finnegan, another lefty, was likewise promoted by the Royals in 2014 and played a major role in their run to the title in 2014. Then there’s towering southpaw Garrett Crochet, whose huge fastball was on display against the Cubs Saturday night.

Just a quick note on that: Crochet’s first 12 pitches and 20 of the 23 he threw in two innings registered 100 mph. His average fastball is 100.2 and he doesn’t even seem to be trying very hard.

This certainly isn’t to say that either Crochet or Marquez will serve as catalysts for their respective teams’ playoff runs, only that it’s not unheard of for a young lefty to shove in the postseason after very limited experience. Both Price and Finnegan were in their first seasons of pro ball when they were called up, with the former logging 109.2 minor league innings at three levels and the latter just 27 at two stops.

All that said, the Cubs turning to Marquez probably means something very bad has happened with either the rotation or the ‘pen. As much as I know that’s true, I still love the potential story of having a 21-year-old who’s never pitched so much as an inning at Double-A going nuts — in a good way — in the postseason. I guess we’ll just have to hope the starters make this all a moot point, which is also a perfectly acceptable scenario.

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