Chicago Cubs

Can Cubs live with Marmols ups and downs?

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Can Cubs live with Marmols ups and downs?

Dale Sveum believes its essential for a manager to never show emotion, and his low-key personality will probably make that easier for him than most on the top step of the dugout.

But lets see the reaction shots when Carlos Marmol walks two batters in a one-run game, 40,000 fans are on their feet and Theo Epstein begins pacing around his suite.

Thats only if the Cubs dont find another endgame solution. After his welcome to Chicago news conference last week, Sveum was asked: Are you set with Marmol as your closer?

Sure, right now thats what we have, Sveum said. We dont have another closer.

By all accounts, Kerry Wood is expected to return in 2012, and Sean Marshall and Andrew Cashner have the potential to one day close, so the Cubs are in a position of strength at the back end of their bullpen.

Sveum has a nuanced, detailed understanding of statistical analysis. But his eyes and his gut tell him that some just arent cut out for the high-adrenaline job.

Not everybodys made to get those last three outs of (a) game, Sveum said. A lot of people might be able to get those three outs in the sixth inning or seventh inning.

Sometimes its not pretty. (But) its not that easy to find guys that can get those last three outs, no matter how ugly its going to be.

Marmol was great theater in 2010, saving 38 games and finishing with 15.99 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest single-season mark in major-league history.

But Marmol lost the feel for his slider last season, and didnt seem to trust his fastball. His ERA ballooned to 4.01 and he tied for the major-league lead with 10 blown saves.

You always try to remember what a guy looks like when hes been good, general manager Jed Hoyer said. Last year clearly was a struggle. The year before was dominant. Hopefully, we can get his slider back on track and make him a dominant closer.

Jonathan Papelbon who got the final out of the 2007 World Series emerged as a key part of the scouting and player-development machine Epstein and Hoyer built in Boston.

The Phillies recently signed Papelbon to a four-year, 50 million contract with a vesting option for 2016. Hoyer doesnt think that deal should make anyone rethink Marmols value.

Its very rare to have a closer with that long a track record, Hoyer said. Since the start of 2006, (Papelbons) been consistent and dominant and really only had one minor health issue.

Marmol had trouble maintaining his mechanics which is never easy for someone with such an unorthodox delivery after signing a three-year, 20 million deal thats heavily back-loaded. Hes guaranteed 7 million in 2012 and 9.8 million the year after that.

Paul Kinzer didnt negotiate that contract, but the agent now represents the closer, along with a few other high-profile Cubs: I think youll see Marmol come (into camp) in great shape and be ready to go (with a) different attitude.

It wouldnt just be selling extremely low on Marmol. The Cubs will also have to take into account a market thats loaded with closer options. The As and Rockies are reportedly listening on offers for Andrew Bailey and Huston Street.

The Rangers reportedly closed with Joe Nathan on Monday, agreeing to a two-year deal worth around 14.5 million that also includes a club option.

Here are some of the other free agents still on the board: Ryan Madson; Heath Bell; Francisco Rodriguez; Francisco Cordero; Frank Francisco; Matt Capps; and Jonathan Broxton.

The exceptional Papelbon became the first player in major-league history to collect at least 30 saves in each of his first six full seasons, and the fastest to reach 200 career saves (359 games), breaking Mariano Riveras record (382).

Heres where Hoyer made a comparison to Marmol: That 2011 season followed one in which Papelbon blew eight saves and finished with a 3.90 ERA for a third-place team. In this line of work, you have to expect volatility.

(Papelbon) struggled a little bit in 2010, Hoyer said. (He) came back and was incredible last year. So it is a position where guys have their ups and downs.

This winter, the Cubs will have to decide just how much they can stomach.

Jose Quintana’s ‘career-altering’ game has Cubs planning clinch party in St. Louis

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USA TODAY

Jose Quintana’s ‘career-altering’ game has Cubs planning clinch party in St. Louis

MILWAUKEE – The Cubs are going to destroy Busch Stadium’s visiting clubhouse. The rivalry has fundamentally shifted to the point where the St. Louis Cardinals are hanging around the National League’s wild-card race in a transition year and it would have been a massive failure if the defending World Series champs didn’t win this division. But there will be some symbolism to popping champagne bottles and spraying beer all over that room.

“We intend to clinch there,” Ben Zobrist said after Jose Quintana’s complete-game masterpiece in Sunday’s 5-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. “And I think for a lot of the guys that have been around here for a long time, it’s going to be very satisfying.”

Quintana has only been a Cub since the Brewers failed to close a deal with the White Sox and team president Theo Epstein swooped in to make a signature trade during the All-Star break. Quintana hasn’t yet pitched in the playoffs, but this is close enough, the Cubs winning back-to-back 10-inning games against the Brewers and shaking off a walk-off loss before the lefty faced off against Chase Anderson in front of a sellout crowd of 42,212.

Quintana gave the Cubs more data points to consider as they prepare for a probable first-round series against the Washington Nationals. The magic number to eliminate both the Brewers and Cardinals is two, with Milwaukee off on Monday and the Cubs playing a rivalry game in St. Louis that night, meaning the party goggles won’t come out until Tuesday at the earliest.

“It’s the playoffs already for this team,” said Zobrist, who again looked like a World Series MVP in the seventh inning of a 1-0 game when he launched Anderson’s first-pitch fastball into the second deck in right field for a two-run, breathing-room homer. “We’re already thinking that way.

“We’re in postseason mode right now. And we intend to continue that for the next month.”

While there are valid concerns about Jon Lester’s nosedive in performance since coming off the disabled list and the state of Jake Arrieta’s right hamstring, the focus should also be on how Quintana (7-3, 3.50 ERA in 13 starts as a Cub) could be an October game-changer for this rotation.

“Once he got over here, he was really jacked up about having a chance to play in the playoffs,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s showing you that right now. Games like that, to me, could be kind of career-altering for a pitcher.

“When you pitch a complete-game shutout on the road under these circumstances, that definitely does something for your interior. It definitely fluffs it up a little bit.”

“It’s exciting to be here,” said Quintana, who allowed only three singles, piled up 10 strikeouts against one walk and hit 93 mph on his 116th and final pitch in the ninth inning. “I just try to help my team and it’s really special when you get that opportunity. It’s about winning and I have a huge opportunity here.”

In all phases of the game – dominant starting pitching, an offense that created different ways to score runs, multiple bullpen contributors and an airtight defense that committed zero errors in 39 innings – Maddon saw what he was looking for: “We reacted in a playoff manner for these four games. Our mental intensity could not be beat.”

That drifting, in-and-out focus had been part of the background when the Cubs shocked the baseball world with the Quintana trade in the middle of July. Concentration won’t be an issue at Busch Stadium. And this hangover will be real.

“It will be nice to do it there, I’ll just say that,” said Zobrist, who understands the Cubs-Cardinals dynamic as someone who grew up in downstate Illinois. “But we got to win the games.

“As John Lackey said it before (this) series: ‘This is not a small series, boys.’ We knew it was a big one here in Milwaukee. And it will be another big one in St. Louis.”

Joe Maddon gives Cubs space during national anthem: ‘Everybody’s got the right to express themselves’

Joe Maddon gives Cubs space during national anthem: ‘Everybody’s got the right to express themselves’

MILWAUKEE – As protests formed at NFL stadiums across the country, sending an anti-Trump message after the president’s inflammatory rhetoric, a group of about 11 Cubs players and coaches stood off the third-base line while a men’s a cappella group sung the national anthem before Sunday’s 5-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

The night before, Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first Major League Baseball player to follow in Colin Kaepernick’s footsteps and kneel during the national anthem at the Oakland Coliseum, sending a jolt through a conservative industry.  

“Like I’ve always talked about, everybody’s got the right to express themselves in the manner in which they feel,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I’ve always felt that way.”

That’s easer said than done in a team sport that doesn’t have the same outspoken culture as NBA or NFL locker rooms. It will be fascinating to see if this starts a similar movement across baseball. The Cubs are a marquee team that has already visited the White House twice since January and will likely return to Washington in October for a must-watch playoff series against the Nationals.

“I have no idea,” Maddon said. “We’re going to wait and see. And, again, if it does, that’s fine. I have no issues. I’m all into self-expression. And if a player feels that he needs to express himself in that manner, then so be it.”

[RELATED — Joe Maddon feels the heat from White House comments and rethinks Trump vs. sports world]

Maxwell, the son of a U.S. Army veteran who made his big-league debut last year, told Bay Area reporters this decision had been building and rooted in his own childhood in Alabama, where Trump appeared on Friday at a rally for Republican Senate candidate Luther Strange and told the crowd that NFL owners should fire any “son of a b----” kneeling during the national anthem.      

“The point of my kneeling was not to disrespect our military or our constitution or our country,” Maxwell said. “My hand was over my heart because I love this country and I have family members, including my father, who bled for this country, and who continue to serve.

“At the end of the day, this is the best country on the planet. I am and forever will be an American citizen and grateful to be here. But my kneeling is what’s getting the attention, and I’m kneeling for the people who don’t have a voice.

“This goes beyond the black and Hispanic communities because right now we have a racial divide that’s being practiced from the highest power we have in this country saying it’s basically OK to treat people differently. I’m kneeling for a cause, but I’m in no way disrespecting my country or my flag.”

Maddon’s anti-rules philosophy gives the Cubs the space to do whatever they think’s necessary to get ready for the next game. It’s freedom from: dress codes on road trips, guidelines on facial hair and overloaded mandatory batting-practice sessions.

That hands-off approach has worked to the point where the defending World Series champs could clinch a second straight National League Central title as soon as Tuesday at Busch Stadium and celebrate in front of the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s not unusual to see only a small group of players, coaches and staffers standing on the field during the national anthem.

“That’s up to them,” Maddon said. “I’ve never really had a policy regarding being out for the anthem or not. A lot of times guys like to do different things right before the game begins. Sometimes, you’re on the road, you hit later and you get in later and then your time is at a premium. So I’ve never really had a specific theory about coming out for your anthem at all.”