For Cubs, Marshall has the right stuff

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For Cubs, Marshall has the right stuff

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011Posted: 3:30 p.m.

By PatrickMooney
CSNChicago.com CubsInsider Follow @CSNMooney
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.

From top to bottom, Cubs have all the pieces in place, including new deals for Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

From top to bottom, Cubs have all the pieces in place, including new deals for Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

CINCINNATI – From top to bottom, the Cubs now have all the pieces in place to make October baseball at Wrigley Field a reality, year after year, with family ownership, rock-star executives and blue-chip players.

“It’s nice to keep the band together,” manager Joe Maddon said, reacting to Friday’s announcement that general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod had finalized contract extensions, matching up their timelines with team president Theo Epstein’s new monster deal through the 2021 season.

Those architects constructed what’s already a 102-win team, a division champion and the National League’s No. 1 seed, making the Cubs right now the biggest story in baseball, if not professional sports.

The lineup for a 7-3 win over the rebuilding Cincinnati Reds featured two MVP candidates (Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo), a 22-year-old All-Star shortstop (Addison Russell) and marquee free agents (Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler). The last two games of the regular season at Great American Ball Park will feature Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks making their final cases for the Cy Young Award. 

“It always starts with ownership and then it goes into the front office and eventually gets to us when you have that kind of stability,” said Maddon, who led a stunning turnaround with the Tampa Bay Rays despite all the uncertainty that came with small-market payrolls, a charmless domed stadium (Tropicana Field) and speculation about relocation and contraction.

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“We have a great product on the field,” Maddon said. “We have the best ballpark in the world. Our fans are spectacular. The city itself – there’s no more interesting place to live than Chicago. All those factors play into the success.

“I know in the past the Cubs haven’t been as successful as they wanted to be. But I don’t know that all the different ingredients have been put into place this well.

“So looking ahead, you just want to build off what you’ve done. Last year was a good building block coming into this year. And we want to keep moving forward. Of course, our goal is to play the final game of the year and win it. Under these circumstances, I think it becomes more believable on an annual basis.”

Since Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod reunited in the fall of 2011 – updating their World Series blueprints with the Boston Red Sox – the Cubs are just the third team in major-league history to win at least 100 games within four years of a 100-loss season. The Cubs have now qualified for postseason play in consecutive seasons for only the third time in franchise history.

“We had some good pieces,” chairman Tom Ricketts said. “But the organization itself was not in a position where you could believe that there was sustainability and consistency and success on the field. Obviously, Theo and the guys that he brought with him five years ago kind of took the organization down to the studs and started rebuilding.

“The time and energy to do it the right way has paid off with a team that should be successful for years to come.”

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