OAKLAND, Calif. – Maybe if the bullpen had been more reliable, the Cubs wouldn’t be selling off pieces before the Fourth of July.
Carlos Marmol took all the heat, but seven other relievers have blown saves this season. The Cubs have converted 51 percent of their save opportunities (18-for-35), while their Pythagorean run differential suggests they should be much closer to a .500 team.
James Russell was responsible for the latest meltdown on Tuesday night at O.co Coliseum, giving up a two-out, three-run homer to Derek Norris in the eighth inning of an 8-7 loss to the Oakland A’s.
This makes it six blown saves for Russell (3.06 ERA), who had been one of the team’s more reliable relievers. Norris began the day hitting only .195.
“He can’t get (anything) down in the strike zone,” manager Dale Sveum said of Russell. “His changeup’s either short or hung and he can’t spot a fastball down and away. It’s basically just no location. Obviously, the confidence probably isn’t too good right now. It’s almost comical to see this happen every single night.
“We have a lead and get beat sometimes by guys that are hardly even hitting home runs. (Norris) has had one at-bat off a left-hander in 15 days and he beats us with a three-run homer.”
This followed the Cubs finalizing Marmol’s trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, part of a flurry of deals that reshaped the bullpen. They received another reliever who had been designated for assignment, Matt Guerrier, and gave up a No. 4 international signing bonus slot.
Guerrier had been a reliable bullpen piece for the Minnesota Twins, leading the American League in relief appearances in 2008 and 2009. But the 34-year-old right-hander didn’t live up to his expiring three-year, $12 million contract, bottoming out with a 4.80 ERA this season.
But the bottom line is sources confirmed the Cubs will wind up saving about $500,000 in this transaction. Marmol is still owed almost $5 million, or roughly half of his $9.8 million salary.
“The way we budget, we were able to get some pretty significant financial savings,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Matt Guerrier had a very good run with the Twins for a long time as a middle reliever.
“With a change of scenery and getting out of Los Angeles, maybe (this) fresh start will get him back to where he was pitching before. Hopefully, he’ll come and be a good addition to our bullpen. The significant part of that deal was it netted us cash savings.”
The Cubs also acquired right-hander Pedro Strop from the Baltimore Orioles in the Scott Feldman trade. Strop, 28, emerged as a good setup guy on Baltimore’s surprise playoff team last season, going 5-2 with a 2.44 ERA in 70 games.
Strop also went 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA in six games for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, helping his country win the championship.
[RELATED: Week 13 MLB Power Rankings]
But it didn’t carryover to the regular season, with Strop spending time on the disabled list with a lower back strain, posting a 7.25 ERA and getting booed loudly by the home crowd at Camden Yards (which sounds like a Marmol situation).
Strop and Guerrier are expected to join the team on Wednesday in the Bay Area. Shawn Camp (7.04 ERA) looks like a reliever who could be designated for assignment next. The Cubs now have 25 losses after leading.
“You go to sleep and you start a new day,” Russell said. “The sun will rise and that’s the thing about baseball. You get your butt kicked one night and you get to do the same thing over again. You got to put it behind you and keep going.”