The Cubs are about to find out if the closer really matters for a team that lost 101 games last season and had to answer questions about a summer sell-off during spring training.
Kevin Gregg pumped his fist and shook hands with catcher Welington Castillo as “Go Cubs Go” started playing on the Wrigley Field sound system late Monday night after a 5-3 victory over the San Diego Padres.
Gregg doesn’t sound completely sold on the idea of closer-by-committee, but then again he’s not complaining after going to camp with the Los Angeles Dodgers and signing a minor-league deal here this month. A bad start forced the Cubs front office and manager Dale Sveum to improvise.
“There’s pros and cons to both ways,” Gregg said. “You name a closer and you definitely allow guys to slide into a position where they’re comfortable and know what they’re preparing for. Sometimes that also backfires on some guys.
“The anxiety gets to them a little bit...Late in the game in the seventh inning and late in the game in the ninth inning are two different animals. You’ve got to know what guys are comfortable with, what situations they’re going to be successful in.”
Gregg – who lost the closer’s job to Carlos Marmol near the end of an up-and-down 2009 season at Clark and Addison – looked relaxed in front of a crowd of 32,169 that included chairman Tom Ricketts standing in the first row.
Gregg got the final four outs to make it 4-for-4 in save opportunities. He hasn’t given up a run through six appearances, becoming what Jeff Samardzija described as “a calming presence.”
The Cubs have watched all 25 games be decided by four runs or less. The only team to start a season with a longer streak is the 1914 Detroit Tigers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“This easily could be flipped around to 15-10 instead of 10-15,” Samardzija said. “But you don’t win or lose the season in April. I feel like we’re good with where we are. Our pitching’s going well. The bullpen’s been pitching their butts off and our bats are swinging outstanding now. Let’s just get a little momentum going and see what happens from there.”
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Samardzija, who cut open his right index finger during his last start, had to battle through five innings, but the rotation has still put up a 3.21 ERA and 15 quality starts. Cody Ransom, a guy the Cubs claimed off waivers from the Padres two weeks ago, homered and drove in two runs. Darwin Barney (2-for-3, walk, two RBI) is back being the glue that holds the defense together.
The Cubs have to take advantage of the soft spot in this brutal early schedule. After winning three of four games against the Miami Marlins in Little Havana, they returned home to face another last-place team and begin a stretch of 16-of-19 at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs could also be getting healthy. Scott Baker began light throwing on Monday in Arizona as he continues to recover from Tommy John surgery. Matt Garza is scheduled to make a rehab start on Wednesday for Double-A Tennessee and could be a game-changer by mid-to-late May.
Kyuji Fujikawa wasn’t “real crisp” (Sveum’s words) in Monday’s bullpen session, but the hope is that he could go to Triple-A Iowa on Sunday and soon be another late-game option.
Calm down: Marmol only warmed up because of a possible pinch-hit situation for Gregg in the eighth inning. Gregg laughed when a reporter mentioned Sveum’s line about Marmol pitching better when he doesn’t know he’s the closer.
“I think that’s Dale’s opinion,” Gregg said. “That's fine. If we win, then it doesn’t matter how it happens. The bottom line is winning.”