Cubs

Lost Marmol tries to forget the past

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Lost Marmol tries to forget the past

MESA, Ariz. This was last September, when the Boston Red Sox were in the middle of an epic collapse and no one knew who would wind up running the Cubs.

As reporters crowded around his locker at Wrigley Field, Carlos Marmol laughed off the uncertainty about who might be the closer in 2012: You want somebody else?

Theo Epstein waved goodbye to Aramis Ramirez, Marmols closest friend in the clubhouse and the godfather to his daughter. The new president of baseball operations also traded away Carlos Zambrano, who called out Marmol during last seasons WE STINKS! rant.

Yet there was Marmol on Monday at Fitch Park, back for his 13th year in the organization, ready to close again. He laughed when asked what life is like without Zambrano around.

Its different, Marmol said. He was a good guy, though. Hes got his own problems. Thats not my business. I try to take care of my business. Everybody has to take care of their business."

Except in St. Louis, a reporter joked, referencing Zambranos meltdown after Marmol blew a save against Ryan Theriot and the Cardinals last June.

I dont know, man, Marmol said. Everybody says whatever they want to say. Just keep it quiet. I dont care what anybody says.He apologized to me. I dont know why, because I didnt hear anything he said. I dont read the papers. It doesnt bother me.

But last season, something got to Marmol, who led the majors with 10 blown saves and lost the closers job at one point. He says hes shed about 10 pounds and will stop experimenting with a cut fastball.

I got a little lost, Marmol said. Im trying to forget about the cutter and everything from last year.

The Cubs want Marmol to focus on his strengths, the devastating slider that can completely baffle hitters (and keep their fans on edge). First-year manager Dale Sveum told him to get rid of the cutter, while new pitching coach Chris Bosio is stressing a simple adjustment, the right way to align his shoulders.

All of this is trying to push Marmol back to where he was earlier in his career, an All-Star setup man in 2008 and a dominant closer in 2010. The eye-popping numbers from that year 38 saves in 43 chances, 15.99 strikeouts per nine innings pitched earned him the big contract heading into 2011.

It was a nice story, the 16-year-old kid the Cubs signed out of the Dominican Republic who at first resisted the idea of being converted into a pitcher striking it rich.

Marmol says the 20 million contract didnt get in his head: No, I dont worry about money. I try doing my job and stay away from thinking about (that).

Marmol will earn 7 million this season, before his salary jumps to 9.8 million in 2013. The economics obviously arent the same, but all winter long, Epstein focused on acquiring potential bounce-back players coming off disappointing years.

This isnt a complete change of scenery. But maybe listening to a few new voices and using the short-term memory essential to any closer will make all the difference.

To be honest with you, I lost a lot of confidence, Marmol said. But its a new year, (so) forget about that. (Were here now).

Cubs offense appears to be heating up at the right time

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USA TODAY

Cubs offense appears to be heating up at the right time

The Cubs are nearing the end of a brutal stretch where they have reported to the ball park 30 days in a row. Naturally, as that stretch is nearing its end, the offense seems to be catching fire. 

After scoring just 15 runs in their previous seven games, the Cubs have scored a combined 14 runs in two games on 21 hits. They scored nine runs on Tuesday alone, beating the Diamondbacks 9-1 in Arizona.

Scoring nine runs in one game is a great sign, but the fact that the entire starting lineup is contributing is an even better one. Every player in Tuesday's starting lineup got at least one hit, minus starting pitcher Mike Montgomery. 

Daniel Murphy entered Tuesday hitting .191 in September that included a 3-for-26 stretch dating back to Sept. 8. Tuesday, he went 2-for-3 with a leadoff single and a two-run home run.

Javier Báez was in an 8-for-30 "slump" entering Tuesday that dated back to Sept. 8. He hit a two-run home run in the first inning, his second home run in as many days. Kris Bryant hit safely for the third straight game, while Ian Happ hit an RBI double from the ninth spot in the batting order.

Baby steps, people.

Jason Heyward made his first start since Aug. 30 on Tuesday, hitting a double and scoring on an RBI double by Happ. While Heyward exited after two at-bats, it was likely to not push him too hard as he comes back from a hamstring injury.

Heyward's return is important due to his defense, but also because of his .276 batting average and respectable .743 OPS. Adding him to the lineup, no matter where he hits, is only a good thing for the Cubs' offense. 

Willson Contreras is just 1-for-9 this series, but he has been driving the ball with authority. After posting a 19.6 percent hard contact rate in August (his lowest over an entire month all season), he has posted a 32 percent hard contact rate this month (entering Tuesday's game), according to Fangraphs.

With 11 games to go, the Cubs now hold a 3.5 game lead over the Brewers for first place in the NL Central. Their magic number to win the division dropped to 8 following Tuesday's win and the Brewers 3-1 loss to the Reds.

Talks of fatigue have surrounded the Cubs recently due to their current 30-day stretch without a day off. The fact that the offense has scored as much as it has this series is quite ironic; perhaps the team sees the light at the end of the tunnel? 

Fatigue or not, the Cubs have to like they way the offense is trending as the regular season comes to a close. 

Brandon Morrow ruled out for the year as Cubs dealt another big blow to bullpen

Brandon Morrow ruled out for the year as Cubs dealt another big blow to bullpen

Brandon Morrow won't be riding in to save the day for the Cubs bullpen this October.

Theo Epstein ruled the closer out for the year Tuesday evening, saying Morrow just couldn't make it all the way back from a bone bruise.

"Every time he pitched, it got worse," Epstein said, according to MLB.com's Carrie Muskat.

Morrow hasn't pitched since before the All-Star break while battling the bone bruise in his forearm.

The Cubs gave him as much time as possible to recover and then he tried to ramp up his rehab over the last couple weeks in an effort to make it back for the postseason. 

He threw off a mound twice last week and then faced live hitters in a sim game Saturday that supposedly went well with the hope of being activated either sometime this week in Arizona or over the weekend on the South Side for the Cubs-White Sox series.

This leaves the Cubs in a serious hole in the bullpen for October, a time when relievers become some of the most important players on the roster.

With Pedro Strop's hamstring injury he suffered last Thursday in Washington D.C., the Cubs are down their top two relief pitchers for the final two weeks of the regular season and will be down at least Morrow in the playoffs. 

Strop said Monday he hoped to be able to return to the Cubs over the final weekend of the regular season (Sept. 28-30), but there is still a lot up in the air with his timeline. 

The Cubs are now left with a bullpen that includes Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson, Carl Edwards Jr. and Jesse Chavez plus a bunch of question marks.

[RELATED — Jesse Chavez has emerged as the most important pitcher in Cubs bullpen]

Will Dillon Maples be able to carve out a role in the October bullpen? What about Jorge De La Rosa or Jaime Garcia? 

The next 13 days will be telling.

Morrow has a long history of injuries over his career - making only 91 appearances (21 starts) and pitching 180.1 innings over the last five seasons entering 2018. He emerged as a dynamic piece of the Dodgers bullpen last October and appeared in each game of the World Series against the Astros.

This is the second pitcher the Cubs have ruled out for the season with a bone bruise, as Yu Darvish also had to be shut down due to a bone bruise in his elbow. Darvish had a debridement procedure on his elbow last week and is supposed to be ready to go for spring training 2019.