Friday, Feb. 11, 2011
Posted 6:15 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
Late last September a Cubs pitcher surveyed the room and thought about what Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol meant to the bullpen. By the end, they were forced to become leaders.
Whether they want to or not, he said, thats their job.
Marshall had just turned 28, and Marmol was a few weeks away from his 28th birthday, but they seemed older than that. The Cubs used 11 rookie pitchers last season, including seven who made their big-league debut.
One club official promised that youll never see anything quite like that again at Wrigley Field. Yet as pitchers and catchers prepare for their first formal workout on Monday in Arizona, a bullpen that caused Lou Piniella so much anxiety might be the least of Mike Quades concerns.
Marshall (2.65 ERA in 80 games) had never really complained about the way the Cubs moved him in and out of the rotation and might have become the teams most valuable player. Marmol (38 saves) could be seen chatting up the younger Dominican players and never seemed to let last nights game close in on him.
Relievers are difficult to project from one season to the next, but the Cubs rewarded Marshall with a two-year 4.7 million deal last month. Theyve been optimistic that theyll be able to buy out a year of Marmols free agency and finalize a multi-year extension.
If Kerry Wood can stay healthy, the Cubs feel like they can dominate late-game situations. How they get to that point depends on who steps up in camp. Nearly everyone has something to prove.
There are questions about the back end of the rotation with Andrew Cashner, Randy Wells, Carlos Silva and Casey Coleman. Non-roster players like Braden Looper, Todd Wellemeyer and Angel Guzman are looking for another chance. Jeff Samardzija is out of minor-league options, while John Grabow must show his left knee is stable.
We got a lot of good arms, Marshall said. (Greg) Maddux told me my rookie year: Good pitching beats good hitting and good pitching wins championships. I think thats what we have.
No ones in a rush to plan parade routes, but the bullpen is the quickest way to improve. The Cubs lost 32 one-run games last season, more than any other team in the majors. They were most vulnerable in the seventh and eighth innings, where they allowed 231 runs combined.
There is a strong probability that the rotation will be entirely right-handed, but the Cubs are comfortable with that. They have left-handed bullpen options in Marshall, Grabow and Scott Maine, who posted a 2.08 ERA during his 13-game audition as a rookie.
Thats why they called me up, to see if I could handle it, Maine said on the final weekend of last season. Ive done pretty well, and sort of surprised myself, but I need to keep it going and all that other stuff is really out of my hands. I could put up a zero ERA this whole time and not make the team next year.
There are limits to what we can take away from how it all ended, whether its Quades 24-13 record as manager or the 28-inning scoreless streak the bullpen put together late last year. But at least that evaluation period gave everyone a better idea of what to expect.
With Kerry Wood in the fold to bridge the gap from starters to Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol, the Cubs believe their bullpen can be highly successful at closing the door late in close games. (AP)
Wood is exactly what the Cubs needed last season, a veteran presence to take the pressure off everyone else. He got a press conference when he signed, a role in the organization once he retires and the loudest cheers at the Cubs Convention.
Here comes baseballs most celebrated middle reliever jogging out of the bullpen.
Im going (to) do my thing, Wood said. Im going (to) try to get outs and hope the guys down there will see the way I go about my business. Im going to learn a lot from them. Hopefully they can learn something from me.
Were all in this together. And were all trying to get the W at the end of the day.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.