Closing time: Another meltdown for Marmol in STL

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Closing time: Another meltdown for Marmol in STL

Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011Posted: 5:00 p.m. Updated: 6:15 p.m.

By PatrickMooney
CSNChicago.com CubsInsider Follow @CSNMooney
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READ: Alfonso Soriano turns up the volume
WATCH: Marmol comments on his blown save
WATCH: Lopez sums up his season after his final start

ST. LOUIS It made you wonder if Carlos Zambrano was watching at home, chilling on the couch and talking at the screen, mumbling some version of I told you so.

In a season full of rock-bottom moments, one of the most memorable came here inside the visiting clubhouse at Busch Stadium. Zambrano looked around the room, glanced over at Carlos Marmols locker and delivered his classic We stinks rant.

Zambrano called this a Triple-A team on June 5 after Marmol blew the save. Zambrano will almost certainly never throw another pitch for the Cubs. And at this point, theres only so much they can get worked up over with four days left in the season.

But the next general manager will have to reassess the closer situation in 2012.

Again, Marmol couldnt preserve a one-run lead and finish off the Cardinals in the ninth inning. With a 2-1 comeback victory on Saturday combined with Atlantas loss in Washington St. Louis (87-71) kept its flickering hopes for a wild card alive, two games back with four to play.

When Jim Hendry rewarded Marmol with a three-year, 20 million deal at the start of spring training, the Cubs (70-88) thought they were getting someone whod be a foundation piece on a contender.

No one else in the majors has blown more saves than Marmol (10). The 28-year-old closer has the worst save percentage in the National League (34-for-44; 77 percent).

It goes back to stuff weve talked about all year mechanics, manager Mike Quade said. (He) just wasnt consistent with (the fastball) or his slider. Its a tough nut when youre trying to protect a one-run lead and youre struggling with both pitches.

We need to get it straightened out. All we need to do is get him back to where he was the last few years. And he will.

This one unraveled quickly. Marmol got two outs before loading the bases for Ryan Theriot, a hitter so undisciplined that Lou Piniella used to joke about how he would go from the Kentucky Derby to the Belmont without a walk in between (and hope the Cubs wouldnt have to wait until the Arlington Million before the next one).

Remember how Zambrano called out Marmols pitch selection last time? (We should know that Ryan Theriot is not a good fastball hitter.) The ex-Cub didnt swing once during a six-pitch at-bat, forcing in the tying run when Marmol walked the third consecutive batter.

Moments later, Marmol uncorked a wild pitch, and it was game over.

I know theyre taking a lot of pitches, Marmol said. All I have to do is throw strikes.

It ruined six shutout innings from Rodrigo Lopez, an emergency starter who began the year pitching for Atlantas Triple-A affiliate and finishes it with a 6-6 record and a 4.42 ERA.

The 35-year-old right-hander, whos about to become a free agent, took several pictures before Wednesdays final home game at Wrigley Field, so he can show his grandkids that he played there.

We have to wait until we have a new general manager, Lopez said. If it was (up to) me, it would be 100 percent coming back here. (But) right now I guess everythings up in the air.

The same goes for almost every player on this roster.

The next head of baseball operations could look at Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija and figure they have the stuff to close. Sean Marshall and Kerry Wood have done the job before. Marmol will have to impress the new boss.

I dont like the year that I had, Marmol said. Hopefully, next years a better year.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Kyle Schwarber might have been the most dangerous hitter in a World Series lineup that featured the National League MVP plus four more All-Stars. After spending more than six months recovering from major knee surgery. Against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and a dominant Cleveland Indians bullpen.

“He’s not going to play winter ball,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said with a perfect deadpan delivery. “We felt like he proved he can hit major-league pitching.”

The Cubs spent Monday at the winter meetings inside the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, continuing their search for pitching on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The Cubs are so stacked with hitters that manager Joe Maddon could write out a 2017 Opening Day lineup tomorrow and Theo Epstein’s front office would still have Jorge Soler left over as trade bait.

Schwarber could hit second for the defending World Series champs, and his presence would mean more than any player the Cubs could sign as a free agent. The Cubs expect him to be at full strength by spring training, though it’s unclear how much work, if any, he’ll get as a catcher.

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“That’s the hurdle we haven’t really gone over yet,” Hoyer said. “Can he do it? There’s no question he’s going to want to do it. I think he can do it. I think that we have to have discussions about how heavy a workload we put on him in that regard.

“One of the things we talked about even last year before he got hurt was (how) he’s doing full catching drills, running around the outfield, doing stuff hitting. That’s a lot to put on a guy, sort of like playing two ways in football.”

Schwarber, an all-Ohio linebacker in high school, has a run-through-a-brick-wall mentality and doesn’t like to hear about what he can’t do. He wrecked his left knee in an outfield collision in early April and needed a procedure that reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL.

It took only two warm-up games in the Arizona Fall League before Schwarber made his dramatic return as the designated hitter at Progressive Field, batting .412 (7-for-17) with a .971 OPS during the World Series. 

The Cubs appear to be set with Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero behind the plate, but Schwarber is the type of baseball gym rat who enjoys breaking down video, giving input for scouting reports and being involved in every pitch.  

“We have to talk through all that stuff,” Hoyer said. “We know what his position’s going to be, so we have to figure out what our position’s going to be. I know he’s going to want to catch.

“But he knows he’s coming in as a left fielder next year. And we have to decide how much of the catching drills (he does).”

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The San Francisco Giants had been three outs away from forcing an elimination game that Johnny Cueto would have started at Wrigley Field – and five different relievers couldn’t protect a three-run lead against a Cubs team that made a stunning comeback.

That October crash reverberated throughout the winter meetings as a $10 billion industry gathered outside Washington, D.C. The Giants bought peace of mind for the ninth inning on Monday and finalized a four-year, $62 million deal with Mark Melancon. For the moment, that will be the biggest contract ever for a closer, at least until Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman shatter that record.

The Cubs have been in contact with Jansen’s camp, sources said, monitoring his market to see if there might be a match as the World Series champs try to upgrade the bullpen this week at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.

Theo Epstein’s front office doesn’t necessarily have a singular focus – believe the reports linking the Cubs to Kansas City Royals closer Wade Davis – or the appetite to win a Jansen bidding war that will include the Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins and perhaps the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals.

But after telling everyone that they did two offseasons in one last winter – and spending almost $290 million on free agents – this is where the Cubs could make a splash.

“It’s safe to say we’re kicking the tires on any pitching that’s available,” general manager Jed Hoyer said during his briefing with the Chicago media. “We’re not spending a lot of time on bats. We’re spending a lot of times on arms. Anyone that’s available, we’re going to sort of be in on and talking about.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon watched Jansen’s cutter up close and gave this endorsement during the National League Championship Series: “He’s like a 100-pound heavier version of Mariano Rivera.”

Jansen, a homegrown Dodger, converted from catcher and developed into an elite closer, saving 189 games while putting up a 2.20 career ERA and 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Jansen just turned 29 and already showed a willingness to pitch outside the ninth inning and go for more than three outs, something that didn’t come easily for Chapman in an October where former Yankee teammate Andrew Miller became an American League Championship Series MVP for the Cleveland Indians.

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“The postseason was reliever-centric,” Hoyer said. “Bullpens have always been really valuable, but I think the way they were used and talked about – really, not even this postseason, but the last two or three postseasons – people are definitely putting a lot of financial importance on having a good bullpen.”

Kansas City’s blueprint for winning back-to-back pennants and the 2015 World Series featured Davis, who posted a 0.94 ERA during that championship season. But Davis dealt with a strained right forearm this year and will make $10 million in his final season before free agency, at a time when the Royals can begin to see their window to contend closing.

The Cubs haven’t made Chapman a priority – and Epstein’s group has been philosophically opposed to the idea of investing big money in a closer – but they also know they probably don’t get that parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue without that blockbuster deal with the Yankees.

“We see the value of it,” Hoyer said. “Look, we traded a great young prospect in Gleyber Torres to get Chapman, because we felt like that was an area that we were a little bit short. We felt like in order to win the World Series, we had to have that kind of guy at the end of the game. It proved to be right.

“In order to get those really difficult final outs in the postseason, having an elite guy is certainly a huge advantage.”

So if the White Sox become the Chicago team that makes most of the headlines here – and in-house options like Hector Rondon, Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop disappoint – the Cubs can always reassess at the trade deadline.

“We’ll bolster our bullpen,” Hoyer said. “Whether you do that by adding just a number of good relievers – or whether we do it by adding a guy that’s sort of a known closer – I’m not sure. But we’ll definitely add to our bullpen.”