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Closing time: Another meltdown for Marmol in STL

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Closing time: Another meltdown for Marmol in STL

Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011Posted: 5:00 p.m. Updated: 6:15 p.m.

By PatrickMooney
CSNChicago.com CubsInsider Follow @CSNMooney
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READ: Alfonso Soriano turns up the volume
WATCH: Marmol comments on his blown save
WATCH: Lopez sums up his season after his final start

ST. LOUIS It made you wonder if Carlos Zambrano was watching at home, chilling on the couch and talking at the screen, mumbling some version of I told you so.

In a season full of rock-bottom moments, one of the most memorable came here inside the visiting clubhouse at Busch Stadium. Zambrano looked around the room, glanced over at Carlos Marmols locker and delivered his classic We stinks rant.

Zambrano called this a Triple-A team on June 5 after Marmol blew the save. Zambrano will almost certainly never throw another pitch for the Cubs. And at this point, theres only so much they can get worked up over with four days left in the season.

But the next general manager will have to reassess the closer situation in 2012.

Again, Marmol couldnt preserve a one-run lead and finish off the Cardinals in the ninth inning. With a 2-1 comeback victory on Saturday combined with Atlantas loss in Washington St. Louis (87-71) kept its flickering hopes for a wild card alive, two games back with four to play.

When Jim Hendry rewarded Marmol with a three-year, 20 million deal at the start of spring training, the Cubs (70-88) thought they were getting someone whod be a foundation piece on a contender.

No one else in the majors has blown more saves than Marmol (10). The 28-year-old closer has the worst save percentage in the National League (34-for-44; 77 percent).

It goes back to stuff weve talked about all year mechanics, manager Mike Quade said. (He) just wasnt consistent with (the fastball) or his slider. Its a tough nut when youre trying to protect a one-run lead and youre struggling with both pitches.

We need to get it straightened out. All we need to do is get him back to where he was the last few years. And he will.

This one unraveled quickly. Marmol got two outs before loading the bases for Ryan Theriot, a hitter so undisciplined that Lou Piniella used to joke about how he would go from the Kentucky Derby to the Belmont without a walk in between (and hope the Cubs wouldnt have to wait until the Arlington Million before the next one).

Remember how Zambrano called out Marmols pitch selection last time? (We should know that Ryan Theriot is not a good fastball hitter.) The ex-Cub didnt swing once during a six-pitch at-bat, forcing in the tying run when Marmol walked the third consecutive batter.

Moments later, Marmol uncorked a wild pitch, and it was game over.

I know theyre taking a lot of pitches, Marmol said. All I have to do is throw strikes.

It ruined six shutout innings from Rodrigo Lopez, an emergency starter who began the year pitching for Atlantas Triple-A affiliate and finishes it with a 6-6 record and a 4.42 ERA.

The 35-year-old right-hander, whos about to become a free agent, took several pictures before Wednesdays final home game at Wrigley Field, so he can show his grandkids that he played there.

We have to wait until we have a new general manager, Lopez said. If it was (up to) me, it would be 100 percent coming back here. (But) right now I guess everythings up in the air.

The same goes for almost every player on this roster.

The next head of baseball operations could look at Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija and figure they have the stuff to close. Sean Marshall and Kerry Wood have done the job before. Marmol will have to impress the new boss.

I dont like the year that I had, Marmol said. Hopefully, next years a better year.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Yu Darvish makes history, but Cubs lose crucial game

Yu Darvish makes history, but Cubs lose crucial game

Things didn't get off to a great start for Yu Darvish Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, but he managed to right the ship quickly.

After allowing three of the first four batters of the game to score, Darvish struck out 10 of the next 12 Reds that strolled to the plate.

That included a stretch of eight Reds in a row, which set a new Cubs franchise record:

Darvish and Kyle Schwarber (3 hits, 2 RBI) were the only bright spots on the night for the Cubs as they dropped a crucial game 4-2.

The Cardinals also lost, so the Cubs didn't lose any ground in the division, but they did fall to 1.5 games behind the Nationals in the Wild-Card race. Milwaukee won, meaning the Brewers are now tied with the Cubs for the final playoff spot in the National League.

Darvish finished with 13 strikeouts in 7 innings Tuesday night, but gave up all 4 Reds runs.

It makes back-to-back incredible performances from the veteran in the whiff department, as he has 27 strikeouts over his last two starts — second-best in Cubs history:

"I'm in a pretty good place [right now], but still, we lost," he said. "We need wins at this point, so I'm still frustrated."

As the Cubs make their push toward October, Darvish has been right up there with Kyle Hendricks as the most reliable members of the rotation. 

Given the way last year went and his slow start to 2019, the Cubs could not have asked for more from Darvish in the second half of the season while also pitching through some forearm tightness. Since the All-Star Break, the 33-year-old right-hander has a 2.70 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 106 strikeouts against only 7 walks in 73.1 innings.

His performance has been especially huge since veterans Cole Hamels and Jon Lester have struggled to find consistency over the last couple months.

"We're seeing the real version of [Darvish] as a person, not just as a baseball player," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said before Tuesday's game. "I think the comfortability level of him with everybody — the media, the coaching staff, the city, every aspect of it has played into it. 

"When he's in a good place and he's mentally feeling good and physically feeling good and he's comfortable, the sky's the limit with him and what he can do. He's got the freedom here to be more of himself in that we don't put a lot of restrictions on him and what he wants to do. As long as we kinda have the same focus and same goals, we're all on the same team. 

"I feel like he's getting to the point now where he's himself. You see that every time out. He's an ultra competitor; he's an uber planner. His routines are outstanding. He's just ready to go out there and dominate every time he gets the ball."

Cubs hoping reinforcements coming soon in Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Kintzler

Cubs hoping reinforcements coming soon in Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Kintzler

With the biggest series of the season looming later this week, the Cubs still don't know if they'll have two of their top relievers available out of the bullpen.

The position player group is already without its two most important players (Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez) and the pitching staff has also taken a hit recently with Craig Kimbrel (right elbow) and Brandon Kintzler (left oblique) unavailable. 

Kimbrel hasn't pitched since serving up a 3-run homer to Christian Yelich on Sept. 1. He later went on the injured list with right elbow inflammation, but initially hoped to be back after the minimum 10-day stay. The best case scenario now would be Kimbrel returning a week beyond his original target date.

He threw a 16-pitch simulated game/live bullpen Tuesday afternoon at Wrigley Field and the Cubs will see how he feels Wednesday before determining the next step. He could either throw another live bullpen session or, if he feels good, return to the active roster and be available for Thursday's series opener with the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals.

"He looked really good, actually," Joe Maddon said. "Delivery was good. There was no hesitation with his arm. He wasn't guarding whatsoever. I thought the fastball was alive. Maybe the command of the curveball was off a bit, but the break was there. It was very encouraging."

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy also liked what he saw from Kimbrel, and felt the Cubs closer wasn't trying to overcompensate with his lower half and messing up his mechanics. 

As Hottovy stressed, the key will be in Wednesday's evaluation, when Kimbrel is able to come out to the field and play catch and see how his elbow recovers after the live action. 

This is already the second injury for Kimbrel, who didn't make his season debut until June 27 and then missed a couple weeks in early August with a knee issue. 

When he's been able to pitch, Kimbrel has 13 saves in 15 chances to go along with a 5.68 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. This is a guy who has never posted a season ERA over 3.40 or WHIP over 1.21 in his nine-year career.

The swing-and-miss stuff has been there (26 strikeouts in 19 innings), but he's also given up 6 homers so far. Between the free agent process that delayed his start to the season and the pair of injuries, Kimbrel really hasn't been able to settle into a groove in his first season with the Cubs.

"I think the best version of him is still in there," Hottovy said. "I think he'd be the first one to agree with that. But again, an 85-90 percent version of him is as good as anybody. [The key is] getting him to where he feels good, is comfortable and we're able to continue to work on things with him.

"This little stretch here gave us some time to clean up some mechanical things we wanted to do that you may not be able to do midseason when he's throwing three of four days or things like that. We were able to do a lot over this time and hopefully be back into it."

As for Kintzler, he hasn't pitched since last Tuesday in San Diego while dealing with his minor side injury. 

He played catch Tuesday and the Cubs are aiming to get him off the mound in a bullpen Wednesday. Once the symptoms subside and he feels like he can get back into his proper mechanics without pain, he'll be ready to return and he's currently holding out hope he'd be ready for Friday's game against St. Louis.

Kintzler thinks he initially hurt his oblique when he fell on the mound throwing a pitch a few weeks ago.

"It just never felt the same after that," he said. "It was day-to-day. Some days were good, some were bad. Some days I was available, some days I wasn't. So it got to the point where I couldn't do that to the team anymore, so we had to shut it down and try to get it right."

The rest of the bullpen has been coming up huge for the Cubs — they have an NL-best 2.32 ERA in September — even without two of the top arms. That's thanks to the emergence of Rowan Wick, Brad Wieck and Kyle Ryan, plus veterans David Phelps, Tyler Chatwood and Steve Cishek.

"Just gotta stay patient," Kintzler said. "San Diego was probably the worst pain I was in. So that wasn't good for anybody. I think the other guys can get the job done if I can't. I just gotta stay patient knowing that if it doesn't feel right, I don't have to rush because the guys are doing a great job. That's helped out a lot mentally for me."

But like Hottovy said, if getting Kimbrel or Kintzler back at only 85 percent would still help the team and with an expanded roster, the Cubs can get away with giving either veteran extra time off after outings.

With the Cubs squaring off against the Cardinals in seven of the final 10 games beginning Thursday, they would certainly like to have Kimbrel and Kintzler available for as many of those contests as they can.

"A lot of it is the communication with how are they feeling? If you rush them back and they pitch one game and then they're down for four days, is that better than them taking two or three extra days at the front end and then being able to regularly pitch like they normally could?" Hottovy said. "That's what we're trying to balance. 

"Right now, we have a little bit more flexibility. If we didn't want Kimbrel to throw another live BP, we can ease him into it because we have the Wi(e)cks, we have Phelps and Chatwood and those guys. We have more numbers down there. So you can pitch him one day and know he's gonna have a few days off potentially to have some coverage.

"We balance all that out and the biggest thing is getting the guys comfortable where they know if they go out on the mound, they can execute. That's the No. 1 thing. Once they can do that and they feel strong and they're recovering well, then I think we'll be ready to roll them out."