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Cubs bullpen: As good as it gets?

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Cubs bullpen: As good as it gets?

Saturday, March 19, 2011Posted: 2:40 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Kerry Wood has lived so long in the spotlight that he might be one of the few players who could move to New York and find it relaxing. But he wasnt the face of the franchise anymore, and got to watch the great Mariano Rivera up close.

Wood lasted less than three months there, but the trade deadline deal that brought him to Yankee Stadium revitalized his career. When he left Cleveland with a 6.30 ERA, baseball wasnt much fun anymore. He had to reinvent himself.

Woods now working on a cutter, the signature pitch that has made Rivera the games greatest closer. But what Wood really took away was the feel of the place, the way you should do your job.

There was never any panic over there when the phone rang in the bullpen, Wood said. Everybody was real calm and Im sure Mariano has quite a bit to do with that. That helped me more than anything. Theres no rush to jump up and panic and you dont get ready properly. Then you go into the game and your adrenalines taking over and you cant calm down.

Wood is supposed to be that steadying influence for a bullpen the Cubs hope will be as good as it gets. They have the elite closer in Carlos Marmol, two accomplished setup men in Wood and Sean Marshall and an expectation that John Grabow will again be healthy and effective.

On paper, we look pretty good, Marshall said. Its what we do on the field that really matters. You can come in and say, Were the best bullpen, the best pitching staff in the league. But its what you do when it counts.

You can say it all you want in spring training, but its really April 1 and on when you make your money.

Over the winter, the Cubs invested in Marshall, rewarding the left-handed reliever with a two-year, 4.7 million deal. He might have been the teams most valuable player last season, posting a 2.65 ERA in 80 games.

The Cubs also made a commitment to Marmol, buying out a year of free agency with a three-year, 20 million contract. Since taking over as the Cubs closer in August 2009, hes converted 91 percent of his save opportunities (49-for-54).

Marmol has pitched six innings this spring, walking six and striking out nine while giving up only one run. He doesnt stress over the money, or runners on base, or how he pitched the night before. He has the perfect personality to close in Chicago.

Im not worried about walks, Marmol said. I worry about striking out people. So you walk (a guy), you dont have to worry about (him) anymore.

The bullpen will have to be good because the Cubs played 54 one-run games last season, and lost 32, the most in the majors. Eighty-three of their 162 games were decided by two runs or less, and they went 37-46 in those situations. These are the margins this team will be working with.

The X-factor could be Grabow, who was once good enough to be chosen to pitch for Team USA in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He says he feels strong again knee, shoulder, arm and wont resemble the reliever who was shut down with a 7.36 ERA last summer.

It took Grabow only five words to summarize the bullpen philosophy.

Get the ball to Marmol, he said. Thats our key somehow, someway throw up zeroes and keep us in the game and get the ball to him.

The Cubs need Grabow and Jeff Samardzija, who is out of minor-league options, to stabilize the bridge to Marmol. Left-handers Scott Maine and James Russell could also be in the mix. Andrew Cashner thrived as a reliever late last season and is guaranteed a spot on the major-league roster, but ideally the Cubs would like to develop him as a starter.

That the Cubs can talk about their relievers with such confidence represents a huge change from last year. They used 12 rookie pitchers in 2010 and finished second-to-last in the National League with a 4.72 ERA out of the bullpen.

Relievers are notoriously hard to project from one year to the next. If they were that reliable, they probably would have been remained starters.

But Marshall and Marmol are just 28 and figure to get better. Wood seems like hes been around forever, but hes still only 33. Bullpens are unpredictable, but right now the Cubs begin 2011 looking at the endgame without any anxiety.

Its a nice feeling to have as a starter, Ryan Dempster said. Weve got a bunch of guys down there with a lot of confidence and experience that you trust to hand the ball over to.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: