Cubs

Cubs expect Marmol to take control

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Cubs expect Marmol to take control

MESA, Ariz. Carlos Marmol has thrown more than 5,800 pitches across the past four seasons. It seems all of them come with a violent delivery, in high-pressure situations and on one of the games biggest stages.

Dale Sveum didnt know the number, but the Cubs manager knew it had to be astronomical. No one has made more relief appearances since the start of the 2008 season than Marmol (313).

Theres a price to be paid for that, but the Cubs think their enigmatic closer can be saved. That means scrapping the cutter Marmol experimented with last season and evolving beyond his killer slider.

Marmol bounced the ball off the rubber and picked it out of the air on Thursday at HoHoKam Stadium. Sveum came out to take it away in the middle of the fifth inning.

Marmol had faced seven hitters and walked back to the dugout in front of 8,580 fans. One slider drilled Casper Wells, and another disappeared after Dustin Ackley lifted it onto the right-field berm for a three-run homer.

At this point, the numbers getting two outs, giving up four runs on four hits in a 10-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners dont matter.

I dont really care, Marmol said, because Im working on fastballs right now and trying to locate my fastball. I didnt get good results today."

Marmol led the majors with 10 blown saves last season and appeared to struggle with his confidence. This after a brilliant 2010 season in which he converted 38-of-43 save chances and notched 138 strikeouts in 77.2 innings.

Marmols average fastball dipped down to 91.8 mph last season, according to the online database at FanGraphs, after averaging out at 94.1, 93.9 and 94.0 the previous three seasons.

The Cubs explain away the variance with the cutter Marmol was messing around with last year. Sveum has noticed the velocity is back up to 94 mph in camp.

The bottom line is his fastball command, Sveum said. He needs to get back in counts, get ahead with his fastball, stay away from the walks. People are a little more onto the slider now that hes gotten older and people can sit on it.

I witnessed K-Rod (Francisco Rodriguez) doing it last year when we got him (in Milwaukee). He started using his fastball a heck of a lot more. You can tell people were sitting on his slow stuff and bam! heres a strike fastball. A couple years ago it was pretty much 80, 90 percent all breaking balls.

There are times where you got to adjust to the league, because theyre starting to adjust to you as well.

The Cubs need Marmol to figure it out because they have four open spots in a bullpen that lost Sean Marshall and Andrew Cashner. Sveum will have to manage Kerry Woods workload, and left-hander James Russell is hoping to get into more high-leverage situations as a setup man.

The bullpen is a big question mark right now, Sveum said. We all know if (Jeff) Samardzija ends up being a starter, that (creates) a hole there, too.Kerry Wood is definitely our eight-inning guy right now, and you got to be careful with that.

You just got to make sure if you get him up, you get him in the game. Tell him the days off, even though hes going to say, Yeah, Im OK. Well, thats OK, but youre not pitching today.

The endgame starts with Marmol, who was asked: Can you still be the same guy who was so dominant in 2010?

Im working hard for that, Marmol said, to try to be consistent with my slider, my fastball, (so) every time I go out there everybody believes in me.

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

Jake Arrieta in a Brewers uniform?

That's not a sight Cubs fans would like to see, but the North Siders' I-94 rivals are apparently keen on trying to add Arrieta, the free-agent pitcher who's been one of the National League's top arms for the past several seasons.

The Cubs have their own decision to make on whether or not they're going to pursue re-signing Arrieta, a guy who over the past three seasons has posted a 2.71 ERA and struck out 589 batters, winning 54 games in 94 starts for a team that won the 2016 World Series and has advanced to three consecutive NL Championship Series.

The downside to losing Arrieta is obvious, as the Cubs would lose a huge part of their formidable starting rotation, but there would be an added downside if Arrieta were to remain in the NL Central and repeatedly haunt his former team.

Given Arrieta's track record, adding him would make sense for any team in the majors, but the Brewers in particular could use a front-of-the-line starting pitcher to boost their chances of besting the Cubs for the Central crown. The Brew Crew staged a surprising threat to do just that in 2017, perhaps proving that their rebuilding effort has yielded fruit ahead of schedule.

But there are questions in that rotation, with Jimmy Nelson expected to miss time next season after having shoulder surgery. Chase Anderson was great last season, and Zach Davies was solid, too. Brewers starters posted an ERA of 4.10 on the season, good for fifth in the NL. The four teams ahead of them, including the Cubs, all made the playoffs. Adding an arm as good as Arrieta's could make the difference in jumping past the Cubs in the Central and getting the Crew to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

And it'd be a plus for the Brewers to make it so Arrieta couldn't shut down their hitters anymore. In 15 career starts against the Crew, Arrieta is 8-4 with a 2.74 ERA. However, they'd surely love to have him call Miller Park home. He's never lost there in five starts, boasting a 2.03 ERA with 30 strikeouts.

There's an argument to be made that Arrieta would be able to seek revenge on the Cubs no matter what team he ends up pitching for, be it an NL team facing off against the Cubs in the playoffs or an American League squad meeting the Cubs in the World Series. After all, as Scott Boras put it, signing Arrieta is a ticket to "Playoffville."

But should Arrieta make the short drive to Wisconsin and set up shop in America's Dairyland, turning the Brewers into a legitimate playoff contender and challenger to the Cubs' grip on the NL Central crown? Well, consider the Cubs-Brewers rivalry cranked up to 11.

Potential first-ballot guy and Blackout Game hero Jim Thome headlines group of former White Sox on this year's Hall of Fame ballot

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AP

Potential first-ballot guy and Blackout Game hero Jim Thome headlines group of former White Sox on this year's Hall of Fame ballot

White Sox fans have seen a couple of their team's all-time greats go into the Hall of Fame in recent years, with Frank Thomas inducted in 2014 and Tim Raines inducted earlier this year.

Seven former White Sox are on this year's Hall of Fame ballot, even if only a couple of them made a big impact on the South Side.

Jim Thome is on the ballot for the first time. While more famously a member of those great Cleveland Indians teams of the 1990s, Thome spent four seasons in a White Sox uniform, playing in 529 games and belting 134 of his 612 career home runs with the South Siders.

A Peoria native currently working as a member of the organization, Thome was a beloved part of four White Sox teams, including the last one to reach the postseason in 2008. He smacked a solo homer to drive in the lone run in the legendary Blackout Game, a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Twins that gave the White Sox the American League Central crown in the 163rd game of the 2008 regular season.

Thome ranks second in White Sox history in slugging percentage and OPS, trailing only Thomas in both categories. He's No. 7 on the franchise leaderboard in on-base percentage and No. 13 on the home run list.

Given that he ranks eighth on baseball's all-time home run list, Thome could very well be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Also on this year's ballot is Carlos Lee, a power-hitting outfielder who spent the first six seasons of his major league career with the White Sox. El Caballo hit 152 homers and drove in 552 runs in 880 games with the White Sox, finishing 18th in AL MVP voting in 2003 after he slashed .291/.331/.499 with 31 homers. His numbers were even better in 2004, his final season with the White Sox.

Lee ranks ninth on the team's all-time home run list and 11th on the franchise leaderboard in slugging percentage.

Lee did an awful lot of damage in six seasons with the Houston Astros, as well, and earned three All-Star nods in his post-Sox career.

Five others to play for the White Sox are on this year's ballot. Sammy Sosa, more noteworthy for what he did with the Cubs, spent parts of three seasons on the South Side. Omar Vizquel, another Indians great like Thome, played for the White Sox in 2010 and 2011. Andruw Jones, better known for his defensive highlights with the Atlanta Braves, played 107 games with the White Sox in 2010. Orlando Hudson played in 51 games for the White Sox in 2012. And Manny Ramirez, the legendary Indians and Red Sox slugger, played 24 games with the White Sox in 2010.

In order to qualify for election into the Hall of Fame, a player must appear on 75 of ballots submitted by voters.