Is there a cure for the city’s two ailing bullpens?

It's been a miserable month for Chicago's baseball teams, and a common target for blame are the bullpens.

The White Sox and Cubs rank first and third, respectively, in blown saves this season. The Sox had 19 through Wednesday's action, while the Cubs have 15 after Thursday’s loss.

Pittsburgh ranks tied for second with the Cubs at 15, but the rest of the NL Central teams are at the bottom of the list. Cincinnati has the fewest blown saves with 3.

So let's try to diagnose the problems. Cubs head of baseball operations Jed Hoyer probably thought the back end was in good shape with Adbert Alzolay returning as the closer. The Cubs also signed Hector Neris as a free agent, traded for Yency Almonte, and Julian Merryweather was coming off an impressive season.

Here we are today with Alzolay and Merryweather both on the 60-day injured list, while Almonte hasn't pitched since May 7 and Neris hasn't excelled as the closer.

Checking Neris' advanced stats, a couple traits are worth noting. First, Neris has lost velocity on his fastball. Nothing drastic, but in the past two years he's gone from an average of 94.3 mph to 92.8. Slug and expected slug against his four-seam has gone way up.

Neris, 35, used to throw a sinker a decent amount, but that pitch is down to 10% usage this season. His split-finger is still decent, but the whiff percentage has dropped from 52.4% in 2022 to 35.1% this year.

In a nutshell, the pitcher the Cubs thought they were getting — the one who posted a 1.71 ERA in 71 appearances for the Astros last year — hasn't shown up.

Chicago White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech celebrates the team's 4-0 win over the Washington Nationals in the second baseball game of a doubleheader Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley) AP

On the South Side, one mystery of the bullpen is the White Sox have some live arms who aren't having much success. Manager Pedro Grifol blamed overuse for the relief woes, but here's another theory.

White Sox pitchers aren't having much success with breaking balls. Even Michael Kopech's 99-mph fastball can fail if there's nothing to go with it.

StatCast gives every pitch a run value, so this is how the White Sox relievers rate by percentile value, first on the fastball, then breaking ball. Kopech has a 42 percentile fastball, 15 breaking ball (out of 100).

Tanner Banks is 67 and 12, Jordan Leasure 60 and 26, John Brebbia 61 and 1, Jared Shuster 76 and 21. How can Brebbia's breaking pitch be in the lowest percentile? Well, opponents are hitting .322 against his slider.

Michael Soroka is the outlier, with the slider his best pitch. His percentile ranks are 22 on the fastball and 38 slider. Right-hander Steven Wilson, who came from San Diego in the Dylan Cease trade, has posted promising numbers. He doesn't have enough reps to get a rating on StatCast, but opposing hitters are below .200 on all three of his pitches (sweeper, four-seam and changeup).

This info is a bit anecdotal, but it does suggest the Sox need to get better at teaching and developing breaking pitches.

Top prospects battle:

The Cubs had an interesting minor-league matchup this week. The Double A Tennessee Smokies faced the Brewers' top prospect, right-hander Jacob Misiorowski, on Wednesday in Biloxi, Mississippi.

The Smokies tagged MLB Pipeline's No. 5-ranked pitching prospect for 6 runs in 4 innings, including home runs by Christian Franklin, Moises Ballesteros and James Triantos.

Whether the Cubs' improved farm system delivers some stars remains to be seen, but they can be encouraged by the performances of some young players. Triantos, 21, is hitting .306 in Tennessee, while Ballesteros is still 20 and leading the Smokies with 8 home runs and 37 RBI.

Iowa outfielder Owen Caissie is one of the youngest players in Triple A. He'll be 21 for another month and has posted an .857 OPS during his first season at Des Moines. All three players are in the MLB Pipeline Top 100 prospects, as is 21-year-old outfielder Kevin Alcantara.

Around the horn:

When the Cardinals called up Barrington's Ryan Loutos for the first time on May 20, they sent down Willowbrook grad Chris Roycroft, then flipped the two pitchers again on June 4. So barring another transaction, it will be Roycroft making the trip to Wrigley Field this weekend. The Aurora University product has a 3.38 ERA out of the St. Louis pen, keeping the opposition scoreless in six of eight outings. The Cardinals have another suburban pitcher in the pipeline. Lake Zurich's Matt Svanson leads Double A Springfield with 9 saves.

Outfielder Alexander Canario has been on a tear for the Iowa Cubs. In June he's hit .355 with 4 home runs and a hefty 1.203 OPS. The question, as usual, is will the Cubs ever give him a fair shot in the majors, since their outfield is already overloaded. …

Former White Sox starter Lucas Giolito was back in town last week with the Red Sox, lamenting the fall of his old South Side squad. But the trade of Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez to the Angels could pay some dividends. The two players received are both playing at Double A Birmingham. Catcher Edgar Quero leads the team with 10 home runs and 42 RBI, while left-handed pitcher Ky Bush has a 1.98 ERA in 11 starts.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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