The endgame for the Cubs and Marmol


The endgame for the Cubs and Marmol

Brian Wilson has the big black beard, the tattoos, the Taco Bell commercials and more than 600,000 followers on Twitter. The San Francisco Giants won another World Series without him.

Losing an elite closer is nothing like the Bulls trying to replace Derrick Rose this season. While Wilson recovered from Tommy John surgery, the Giants leaned on a 28th-round pick, a good setup guy with his own sweet beard and fist-pumping routine.

Sergio Romo had saved only three games in his entire big-league career until this year. He closed out the Detroit Tigers three times during a four-game sweep, ending it when he froze Miguel Cabrera with an 89 mph fastball.

Ideally, thats how the Cubs would like to build their bullpen. Their next closer wont be a cult of personality. Theyd prefer to grow one organically, or buy one at a discount, rather than pay top dollar.

Carlos Marmol will earn 9.8 million in the final year of his contract, which makes him an expensive, short-term asset in an organization with a long-range vision. So from next weeks general manager meetings in Indian Wells, Calif., all the way to next summers deadline, his name could be all over

When asked, Theo Epstein said hes comfortable with Marmol as his 2013 Opening Day closer. But the team presidents answer to a hypothetical question Philosophically, how would you go about finding a closer if your roster didnt have one? sounded more revealing.

I would look at it as an opportunity to try to give someone an opportunity, Epstein said recently. Either internally a pitcher that we believed in and liked and exposed them to that role (so he) could maybe develop into that type of asset.

Or go outside the organization and try to buy low on a pitcher that we really liked and then build value by putting him in that role. (Thats) value for the Cubs, and then if our season doesnt turn out the way we want it to potential value in a trade.

It didnt quite work, but Epstein went with the bullpen-by-committee when he took over the Boston Red Sox. He also went year-to-year with Jonathan Papelbon in arbitration at a time when they were locking up other young core players with extensions.

The Cubs are trying to stockpile power arms through the draft and build their bullpen from within. In the future, its hard to see them matching the kind of four-year, 50 million contract the Philadelphia Phillies gave Papelbon almost 12 months ago. They arent going to buy a brand name.

Marmol briefly lost his job and spent time on the disabled list with a hamstring strain in May. By the time he got back on track, no one was really paying attention to the Cubs as they marched toward 101 losses.

When theres something extreme early in the season, it dictates the narrative for the whole season, Epstein said. I think it kind of went unnoticed nationally, just the extent to which this guy turned his year around and was really effective.

Marmol converted 19 straight save chances during one stretch and posted a 1.52 ERA after the All-Star break. Whether or not that will lower heart rates among Cubs fans, or suppress that feeling of "here we go again" after the next leadoff walk at Wrigley Field, or convince a rival executive, his final numbers wound up being pretty good: 3-3 with a 3.42 ERA, 20 saves and 72 strikeouts in 55.1 innings.

Marmol also bought into what the coaching staff kept preaching: Trust your fastball. He threw it 51 percent of the time, seeing his average velocity rise back up to 94 mph, according to the online database at FanGraphs.

Big punch-out rate, more strikes and then really significantly he did it in a completely different way, Epstein said. His fastball was really useable and really effective and that hasnt been seen around here from him, maybe ever. That was a great sign, because I think its more likely to be repeated next year.

Hes got two really viable pitches now. If he had just been a straight-out slider monster and happened to lock in his slider for a couple months and faced some aggressive hitters, I wouldnt be as optimistic about him as I am now, because hes got two weapons to go at hitters with again.

After 13 seasons in the organization, Marmol celebrated his 30th birthday this month. He planned to spend his offseason riding horses, working on his farm in the Dominican Republic and ignoring all the speculation about what the Cubs might do next.

Marmol also considers Chicago to be a second home. He has become acclimated to the pressures of pitching the ninth inning here. Win or lose, he always stands in front of his locker postgame.

The statheads arent going to want to hear about a closers mentality, or being able to do it on a big stage in front of 40,000 fans. But even manager Dale Sveum who uses all the data analysis to guide his decisions thinks theres something different about getting the last three outs. Sooner or later, the Cubs are going to find out if someone else has what it takes.

The moment Billy Williams knew the 2016 Cubs were destined for the World Series

The moment Billy Williams knew the 2016 Cubs were destined for the World Series

Billy Williams will finally get to witness the Cubs in the World Series.

The enormity of that statement hasn't even quite set in for Wrigleyville yet.

Standing on the left field grass about a half hour after the Cubs made history, Williams looked around at the 43,000 people still left in Wrigley Field and predicted people would be partying until 5 or 6 a.m.

The streets around Wrigley looked like a tornado ripped through it at 5 a.m., though the partying had quieted down quite a bit. Fans are pacing themselves for the final week of October that will prove to be unlike anything Chicago has ever seen before.

Somewhere, Williams is probably still trying to wrap his head around it all.

"I can't believe it," he said. "This is really, really something. 

"Standing on the field here, standing on this sacred ground, celebrating - it's a great feeling. It is a great feeling."

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Williams played his entire 18-year career with the Cubs and hit 426 homers while winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 1961 and earning six trips to the All-Star Game.

He's spent his retirment years around the Cubs, following the team from spring training to the biggest moment Wrigley Field has ever seen Saturday night.

The 78-year-old shared with reporters the moment he knew this 2016 Cubs team was something special.

Williams admitted he never thought he'd see the day the Cubs would go to the World Series until the 2015 team put together 97 wins and knocked the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals out of the postseason before running into the New York Mets in the NLCS.

But he also thought that experience was invaluable for the young players and when he saw Dexter Fowler's surprise return to the team in spring training, something clicked for the Cubs legend.

"I love the fact that Dexter Fowler came back to play center field. 'You go, we go,'" Williams said, referencing Joe Maddon's phrase for Fowler's impact at the top of the order. "So [Jason] Heyward went back out to right field and all of sudden, our ball club is completely solid.

"I saw that in Arizona when Dexter came back in spring training and the guys saw him and he said, 'Hey man, good to be back.'

"And it was a tight-fit ballclub from that point on. They played well and they played for each other. And you see how it went all year."

World Series drought will soon end for Cubs or Indians

World Series drought will soon end for Cubs or Indians

In no more than 10 days, one of baseball’s longest-suffering fan bases will feel anguish no more.

Decades of torment, missed opportunities and bitter disappointment will be erased when either the Cubs or the Cleveland Indians clinch a championship in the 112th World Series, which begins on Tuesday night at 7:08 p.m. CST.

Neither franchise has emerged victorious from the Fall Classic for a combined 174 years, the largest drought in World Series history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908 while the Indians haven’t been crowned champion since 1948. The previous record of 130 combined years was set in 2005 by the White Sox (87 years between titles) and Houston Astros (43).

“Cleveland is deserving of the World Series, too, so this is going to be a classic, two cities that have been in a long drought,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said late Saturday. “This is really good for baseball.

“It’s going to be amazing.”

The Cubs already have ended one longstanding drought with their victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. By reaching the World Series, the Cubs ended the longest stretch without a championship round appearance among franchises in the four major North American sports. Despite making the postseason seven times in the previous 31 years, the Cubs haven’t been to the World Series since 1945.

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Courtesy of last week’s American League Championship Series victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, the Indians are making the seventh trip to the World Series in franchise history. The Indians haven’t won the World Series in 67 years despite three previous appearances: they were swept by the New York Giants in 1954, lost to the Atlanta Braves in six games in 1995 and suffered a heart-breaking defeat in seven games against the then-Florida Marlins in 1997.

“What could be better for baseball?” Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said. “We’re real excited. I have a lot of friends from Cleveland. I have a lot of respect for the Cleveland Indians organization. I’m anxious to get there.”

Though they’re ecstatic to be where they are, Cubs players continue to echo the sentiment that their mission isn’t yet complete. They’re not oblivious to what their fans have endured, the decades of suffering and generations who have come and gone without ever seeing a trophy. But rather than worry about the franchise’s agonizing past, veteran utility man Ben Zobrist said players must remain focused on the present.

“There’s a lot of pent up angst and emotion in this city, really all over the nation, Cubs fans that have been loyal through the years,” Zobrist said. “We know that. But the bottom line is you have to execute at the right time and stay here in 2016. These guys have done it all year long with all the expectations on our backs and we only have four more. We’re in the exact spot we wanted to be in and we have a chance to do something that hasn’t been done in 108 years.”