Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011Posted: 3:30 p.m.
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ST. LOUIS Sean Marshall isnt eccentric. He doesnt have a mohawk. He doesnt act like he just pounded four cans of Red Bull. Someday, somewhere, he still might have the right stuff to be a closer.
Nothing seems to surprise or bother Marshall, and thats important when you play for this team in this market.
Marshall has survived the boom-and-bust periods of Cubs baseball. Hes pitched for Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella. Hes played with Greg Maddux and Mark Prior, Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano. Hes finished in last place and first place.
At the age of 29, nearing the end of his ninth season in the organization, Marshall has developed into an All-Star-caliber reliever, someone the young pitchers in the bullpen gravitate toward.
You got to have a level head, Marshall said. You cant let your surroundings effect the way you feel out there. As loud as the crowd is, then you just have to worry about making that pitch and not getting flustered, not getting rattled.
When those things happen, the game speeds up. Then you start rushing and leave pitches up in the strike zone.
With that sense of calm, the 6-foot-7-inch left-hander entered Sunday with a 0.91 ERA in his last 32 games. In 75 innings, he had 77 strikeouts and 17 walks. Overall, hes 6-6 with a 2.28 ERA in what could be a breakthrough season.
There isnt a closer controversy yet. But it will be a long winter and the next general manager will have to take a serious look at Carlos Marmol, how good hes been in the past and what went wrong in 2011.
Because the Cubs thought their rebuilt bullpen would be a game-changer this season. Their relievers began Sunday with a 3.52 ERA that was more than a run lower than their 4.55 ERA last season. Only the bullpens in Arizona (3.665.74) and Milwaukee (3.344.47) have shown greater improvement.
But while the Diamondbacks and Brewers have celebrated clinching division titles, the Cubs woke up on Sunday morning with a hangover from Marmols 10th blown save. It unraveled the day before with three straight walks and a wild pitch in a 2-1 loss to the Cardinals.
Its tough to watch, Marshall said. I want to be out there helping, but I know that hes been one of the best in the business for a couple years now. He knows what hes got to do.
Its just a matter of putting yourself back on track and finishing up the last couple games strong. (Its) keeping a nice, good mental approach into the offseason, to be ready to come back and redeem yourself next year.
Jim Hendry gave Marmol a three-year, 20 million contract at the start of spring training. The move was widely praised as a sensible way to buy out a year of free agency and reward a homegrown player.
To that point, Marmol had converted 49-of-54 save opportunities which translates to a 91 percent success rate since taking over as Cubs closer in August 2009. Of all the things that have happened during this lost season, no one saw a Marmol meltdown coming.
The better his command is, the better hell be, manager Mike Quade said. I dont think hell ever have lights-out command. But the ability to throw the fastball when he needs to for a strike and then do the same with the slider hes done that for several years and we just need to get it back to that.
His stuff can be so devastating. He needs hitters in swing mode. Thats why the value of the fastball for strikes and getting ahead of guys is so big. Because you put a strike on him and now theyve got to consider both pitches. Clubs are forcing him to prove to them that he can throw strikes consistently.
Marmol has gone 34-for-44 in save chances this season. His salary will escalate to 7 million next year and 9.8 million in 2013.
Marshall will earn 3.1 million next season and then be eligible to become a free agent. He loves Chicago and will spend the winter there in the suburban home hes settled into with his family. Hes interested to see what happens next.
I dont know what to expect, Marshall said. Theres going to be some changes. Im sure there will be some new faces up in the front office. But its a business and were employees in the business. They pay us a lot of money to go out and do the best that we can. Thats my plan, whatever job Im in next year, whether its the same or different.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.