Cubs

Cubs trying to piece bullpen back together

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Cubs trying to piece bullpen back together

Friday, Feb. 11, 2011
Posted 6:15 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Late last September a Cubs pitcher surveyed the room and thought about what Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol meant to the bullpen. By the end, they were forced to become leaders.

Whether they want to or not, he said, thats their job.

Marshall had just turned 28, and Marmol was a few weeks away from his 28th birthday, but they seemed older than that. The Cubs used 11 rookie pitchers last season, including seven who made their big-league debut.

One club official promised that youll never see anything quite like that again at Wrigley Field. Yet as pitchers and catchers prepare for their first formal workout on Monday in Arizona, a bullpen that caused Lou Piniella so much anxiety might be the least of Mike Quades concerns.

Marshall (2.65 ERA in 80 games) had never really complained about the way the Cubs moved him in and out of the rotation and might have become the teams most valuable player. Marmol (38 saves) could be seen chatting up the younger Dominican players and never seemed to let last nights game close in on him.

Relievers are difficult to project from one season to the next, but the Cubs rewarded Marshall with a two-year 4.7 million deal last month. Theyve been optimistic that theyll be able to buy out a year of Marmols free agency and finalize a multi-year extension.

If Kerry Wood can stay healthy, the Cubs feel like they can dominate late-game situations. How they get to that point depends on who steps up in camp. Nearly everyone has something to prove.

There are questions about the back end of the rotation with Andrew Cashner, Randy Wells, Carlos Silva and Casey Coleman. Non-roster players like Braden Looper, Todd Wellemeyer and Angel Guzman are looking for another chance. Jeff Samardzija is out of minor-league options, while John Grabow must show his left knee is stable.

We got a lot of good arms, Marshall said. (Greg) Maddux told me my rookie year: Good pitching beats good hitting and good pitching wins championships. I think thats what we have.

No ones in a rush to plan parade routes, but the bullpen is the quickest way to improve. The Cubs lost 32 one-run games last season, more than any other team in the majors. They were most vulnerable in the seventh and eighth innings, where they allowed 231 runs combined.

There is a strong probability that the rotation will be entirely right-handed, but the Cubs are comfortable with that. They have left-handed bullpen options in Marshall, Grabow and Scott Maine, who posted a 2.08 ERA during his 13-game audition as a rookie.

Thats why they called me up, to see if I could handle it, Maine said on the final weekend of last season. Ive done pretty well, and sort of surprised myself, but I need to keep it going and all that other stuff is really out of my hands. I could put up a zero ERA this whole time and not make the team next year.

There are limits to what we can take away from how it all ended, whether its Quades 24-13 record as manager or the 28-inning scoreless streak the bullpen put together late last year. But at least that evaluation period gave everyone a better idea of what to expect.
With Kerry Wood in the fold to bridge the gap from starters to Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol, the Cubs believe their bullpen can be highly successful at closing the door late in close games. (AP)
Wood is exactly what the Cubs needed last season, a veteran presence to take the pressure off everyone else. He got a press conference when he signed, a role in the organization once he retires and the loudest cheers at the Cubs Convention.

Here comes baseballs most celebrated middle reliever jogging out of the bullpen.

Im going (to) do my thing, Wood said. Im going (to) try to get outs and hope the guys down there will see the way I go about my business. Im going to learn a lot from them. Hopefully they can learn something from me.

Were all in this together. And were all trying to get the W at the end of the day.

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

Road struggles continue for Cubs in late-game implosion against Giants

Road struggles continue for Cubs in late-game implosion against Giants

It’s no secret that the Cubs have had their fair share of struggles on the road this season. Entering Monday’s game the Giants – the first of a nine-game road trip -- the Cubs held an 18-27 road record, 21st in all of baseball.

Things took a turn for the worse in that department on Monday night.

Clinging to a 4-2 lead in the eighth inning, the Cubs called upon reliever Pedro Strop to shut down the Giants 3-4-5 hitters. Strop, who entered action with a 4.62 ERA in 29 appearances (5.40 in July), surrendered three runs on four hits – including three doubles. The end result was the Giants taking a 5-4 lead, ultimately the game’s final score.

While Strop’s outing will get the most face time due to it occurring in a high-leverage spot, the truth of the matter is that the Cubs struggled for much of Monday’s game. After taking an early 3-0 lead, they couldn’t pull away from the Giants, watching San Francisco slowly close the gap and cut the deficit to 3-2 in the fifth inning.

The Giants actually came close to tying the game at 3-3 in the seventh inning, though Steve Cishek was able to work out of a first and second, one out jam to keep the Cubs ahead. Plus, before consecutive two out singles in the eighth inning – one being an RBI from Anthony Rizzo to give the Cubs an insurance run, the Cubs offense went through a 1-for-15 drought that began with two outs in the third inning.

At the same time, Strop struggling again is quite concerning. The 34-year-old has been the team's most reliable reliever for the past five seasons, posting sub-3.00 ERAs in each campaign from 2014-18. However, he's in the midst of a forgettable month, allowing seven runs on 11 hits in 7 2/3 innings. Strop also surrendered a game-tying home run in the eighth inning Friday against the Padres, though the Cubs were able to bounce back and win. 

Between their road woes and Strop's rough July, Monday's game did nothing to alleviate concerns over two unsettling Cubs trends. If there's one positive to take away from the game, it's that the Cubs were six outs away from picking up their third road win in seven tries this month.

Moral victories count for little when a team is in a heated pennant race, though, especially since the Cardinals took down the Pirates Monday to cut the Cubs' lead in the NL Central to 1.5 games. The Cubs have to find a way to get better on the road, and they have to find a way to get Strop back on track. Fortunately for the Cubs, there's still time to do both, as Strop pointed out postgame.

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What Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff's oblique strain means for Cubs, NL Central

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USA TODAY

What Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff's oblique strain means for Cubs, NL Central

The Brewers’ pursuit of second-straight NL Central championship suffered a devastating blow on Monday, as staff ace Brandon Woodruff landed on the injured list with a left oblique strain.

Woodruff, who exited Sunday’s game against the Diamondbacks in the fourth inning, is expected to be out for about six weeks. The 26-year-old is enjoying a breakout 2019 season in which he was named an All-Star for the first time. He ranks first among Brewers starting pitchers in wins (11), strikeouts (136) and innings (117 2/3) while ranking second in ERA (3.75) among pitchers with at least 10 starts.

The timing of Woodruff’s injury is unfortunate for the Brewers, who enter Monday two games behind the Cubs for first place in the NL Central at 53-48. Most teams aren’t equipped to lose their best starting pitcher for an extended period, especially in the thick of a pennant race. This is especially true for the Brewers, whose starting pitching has struggled in 2019.

Entering Monday, the Brewers starting pitchers rank 18th in MLB with a 4.73 ERA. This is a far cry from last season, when they ranked 11th with a 3.92 ERA. So, while Woodruff’s injury complicates matters, the Brewers already had a need for starting pitching.

The Brewers have a tough decision to make. They could swing a trade (or two) to give their rotation a much-needed boost. Potentially available pitchers include Madison Bumgarner of the Giants, Mike Minor of the Rangers, Matthew Boyd of the Tigers, Zack Greinke of the Diamondbacks and Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays, among others.

Acquiring a single pitcher isn’t going to solve the team’s woes, however, which Matt Clapp from The Comeback pointed out.

As Clapp said, any trade will likely require some form of prospect capital, and teams would be unwise not to ask the Brewers for rookie phenom Keston Hiura in negotiations. Hiura, 22, is hitting .331/.387/.613 with nine home runs in 37 games, though, so it’s tough to imagine the Brewers parting with him in any deal.

Thus, the Brewers either must create an enticing enough package without Hiura or stand pat. If they were to do the latter, they risk losing ground in the NL Central standings to the Cubs and Cardinals amid a tough stretch in their schedule.

From July 15-Aug. 4, the Brewers will play 16 games out of 19 against teams with .500 or better records. Although they’re currently 5-2 in that stretch, Milwaukee went 9-17 from June 14-July 14, a stretch of 26-straight games against teams with losing records. Woodruff’s injury, therefore, comes at a point in the Brewers’ schedule where it’s make or break time.

The Cubs have come out of the All-Star break hot, going 7-2 to give themselves the slightest amount of breathing room in the NL Central standings. With how the Cubs are playing, the division could become out of reach for the Brewers if they can’t stay afloat during their current stretch – let alone until Woodruff returns. Not to mention the Cardinals, who are 7-3 since the break and sit just a half game behind the Brewers in the division standings.

Of course, the Brewers were five games back of the Cubs in the NL Central entering September last season, only to win the division in Game 163. Their current position is certainly not ideal, but the Cubs and Cardinals aren't out of the woods yet. There has been a great sense of urgency within the NL Central all season due to the compact standings. For the Brewers, that urgency certainly is higher than ever now.

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