Brown vs. Priester highlights Cubs' week in Triple A

The Cubs were gifted with some time off Thursday from a miserable five-game stretch, which began with a two-day 27-4 mauling in Minnesota and ended with Wednesday's late-inning collapse at Houston.

They'll open a three-game weekend series in Philadelphia and optimism can be found in the possibility Marcus Stroman (Friday) and Justin Steele (Sunday) will bounce back from their season-worst performances, while Nico Hoerner (hamstring) is expected to return from the injured list.

Meanwhile, there was a very interesting pitching matchup in Triple A on Tuesday. The Iowa Cubs started right-hander Ben Brown, who has been lights-out this spring, against Cary-Grove High School grad Quinn Priester, the No. 4-ranked prospect in the Pirates' organization by

Priester won this battle by a wide margin. He pitched 7 innings and struck out nine, while his Indianapolis squad won 9-1.

Heading into this game, Brown had started 4 times for Double A Tennessee and twice for Iowa, and his ERA was 0.29, with 2 earned runs in 30.2 innings.

So using the theory that you can learn more from failure, it's probably not a bad thing for Brown to have a rough night on the mound. He's been the top performer in the Cubs' minor leagues and, barring an injury, there's a good chance he'll make his major league debut sometime this season.

The Cubs got Brown in a trade from Philadelphia for David Robertson last July. Priester was the Pirates' first-round pick, No. 18 overall, in 2019.

Priester had a rough month of April, posting a 7.78 ERA in his first five outings for Indianapolis. In his last three starts, it's 1.42. He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he's put work into improving his fastball, to pair with an already dangerous curve.

"I do feel like I'm striking more guys out, which is telling me that the stuff is playing, especially against better hitters," Priester said. "So it's just a matter of executing those right pitches. To me, it's not that complex of an issue, which is great and also frustrating."

Bullpen problems:

The Cubs cobbled together decent bullpens the past two years by signing some value-priced veterans like David Robertson, Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin and others. In some cases, especially Robertson, they were able to flip those relievers for prospects at the trade deadline.

This year, they stopped after signing Brad Boxberger and Michael Fulmer, choosing to go without a defined closer. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer referenced his dream of fielding a homegrown bullpen a few times in the past year.

Well, the bullpen turned out to be a problem. Fulmer has a 7.50 ERA and Boxberger (5.52 ERA) is on the injured list with a forearm strain.

Hoyer likely expected to have some depth in the minors to restock the relief corps, but it hasn't worked out that way. Ben Leeper had Tommy John surgery, Codi Heuer has a ways to go in his return from Tommy John, and former big-leagers like Rowan Wick (9.92 ERA) and Manuel Rodriguez (5.63) haven't found their groove.

The Cubs have a rocket arm at Iowa in Cam Sanders, a 2018 draft pick who has yet to pitch in the majors. He has a decent 2.76 ERA, but 23 walks in 16 innings.

Their best chance for bullpen help might be left-hander Bailey Horn, who seemed to make some good adjustments in the offseason and has done well in his Triple A debut. And yes, he was a deadline acquisition, coming from the White Sox for Tepera,

Another player to watch is 6-8 lefty Luke Little, a 2020 draft pick. He spent last season as a starter and is now in a relief role at Double A Tennessee. Through his full minor league run, Little has 156 strikeouts in 102 innings.

Losses adding up:

There's still time for the Cubs to get back in playoff contention, especially considering the competition in the NL Central. But this season already feels a lot like 2021, when they were nine games above .500, threw a combined no-hitter against the Dodgers, then lost 11 in a row.

They added a 12-game skid later that season, then had 10- and nine-game losing streaks last year. Overachieving or horrendous run of losing seems to be the Cubs' only two gears. But they did inexplicably sweep the Phillies on the road in the last week of September last season, so there's that. Maybe it will happen again.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

Wesneski plans to study right way to miss after Cubs clocked by Twins

Cubs pitchers can't compete with Minnesota's 'Land of Rakes'

Morel's power becomes an unexpected Cubs weapon

After White Sox's shaky start, a guide to surviving rest of season

Cubs send Wesneski to Iowa, call up a pair of fresh relievers

One bad inning proves costly for Steele, Cubs drop fourth straight

Cubs let 5-run lead slip away, Astros win 7-6 in the ninth

Ben Brown Associated Press
Quinn Priester Associated Press
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.