Cubs

Marmol was down on the farm this offseason

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Marmol was down on the farm this offseason

In 2011, Cubs closer Carlos Marmol struggled through his worst season since assuming the full time closer's role in 2009. He saw his weight go up, his conditioning was less than stellar, and his performance was far below average. He blew 10 save opportunities which tied for the major league lead and his ERA in the 2nd half of the season was 5.91.

After the firing of Jim Hendry and the hiring of Theo Epsteins management team, Marmol had a heart to heart talk with the new Cubs front office. They were direct in their criticisms and their desire to see him return to form as one of the most dominating pitchers in all of baseball. Marmol set a major-league record in 2010 when he averaged an astounding 15.99 strikeouts per 9 innings and after an off season of hard work he has come to camp with something to prove.

I lost about 15 pounds this winter through my workouts and I really didnt have to change my diet much because I eat healthy, lots of chicken and vegetables, he said.

In addition to a conditioning regimen that involved a lot of cardio work and weight training Marmol spent considerable time riding horses on his farm in the Dominican Republic. I love to ride horses and it is a good way to stay in shape and get some extra work in during the off season. My horses keep me very busy as my brother and I take care of our farms, he said.

Marmol owns an extensive farming operation that includes 40 horses and 700 head of cattle and while he is very involved in the off-season the operation is run full time by his brother. We have a great set up with our milk cows and our beef cows. We also have some chickens as well as all of our horses. It takes a lot of my time in the off season but it is a great way to get away from baseball for a bit when the season ends, he said.

Marmols farm produces milk that is sold in the Dominican Republic and is one of three farms that he owns in his home country. I have been around farms my entire life but a few years ago my brother and I decided to get into the business together. We have the milk cows that produce what we sell as well as some beef cows and some chickens, he said.

After a rough 2011 season, Marmol knows that some doubt his effectiveness as a closer but he is ready to put those doubters minds at ease. I am ready to have a good season and I feel I am in much better shape than I was a year ago. My pitch selection will be a little bit different but I want to get back to where I was in 2010 which is where I should be, he told me.

New Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio loves Marmols ability and is confident the former All-Star can regain the form that made him one of baseballs most un-hittable pitchers.

We have tweaked his approach and his pitch selection some by having him use his fastball and curveball more and setting up that great slider. Carlos has all of the tools to be a great pitcher and we have to all work together to get him back to where he was. Not many teams have a bullpen that feature a Carlos Marmol and a Kerry Wood and we are very fortunate to have them in ours. Carlos has looked great so far in camp and I am looking for him to have a big year for us, Bosio said.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 18th homer of June and 31st of the season came off the Tigers in the Cubs' brief 2-game Interleague series in Detroit. 

Sosa connected in the first inning off Tigers starter Seth Greisinger, going back-to-back with Mickey Morandini. 

The Cubs wound up getting out to a 5-0 start in the game but still lost 7-6 on a Gabe Alvarez single in the bottom of the 11th.

The aforementioned Morandini homer was only the 3rd of the season for the Cubs second baseman. He finished with 8 homers on the year and 224 total bases on 172 hits in what was a very good offensive season. Yet it paled in comparison to Sosa, who had nearly 200 more total bases (416) and a slugging percentage nearly 200 points above Morandini's (.647 to .471), a testament to how truly incredible Sosa's season was.

Fun fact: Tony Clark was the Tigers' cleanup hitter that day. Clark is now the head of the MLB Players Union.

Fun fact No. 2: Paul Bako was the Detroit catcher in the game. He later became the Cubs backup catcher in 2003 and 2004, when he posted a .611 OPS in 119 games over the two years.

Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound

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USA TODAY

Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound

The Cubs continued their recent struggles, suffering their third straight loss to the Cincinnati Reds. 

But the game was not without its fair share of drama. The matchup was a back-and-forth affair, up until the Reds blew the game wide-open in the bottom of the third inning. This included a grand slam by Reds pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, the first home run of his career.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon turned to the bullpen following Cincinnati's third inning explosion, and things did not get much better from there.

With the Cubs down six runs in the bottom of the eight inning, Maddon brought in catcher Chris Gimenez to pitch. 

This was not new territory for Gimenez, who despite being a catcher, now has 10 MLB pitching appearances to his name. 

Down six runs, Gimenez didn't have a lot to lose. But Reds first basemen Joey Votto hammered a fastball in the zone for his eighth homer of the year.

Gimenez had a career ERA of 8.00 before Saturday's appearance, and he certainly didn't do much to help lower that figure.

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers: "Including one today, Cubs relievers have allowed 41.1 percent of inherited runners to score in June, sixth most in the NL." 

A tired bullpen is certainly cause for concern for the Cubs, who are locked into a battle in the NL Central with the Brewers and Cardinals. Maddon was surely hoping to keep his bullpen arms fresh with the move, seeing as the game was already out of reach. 

So yes, the game did end in a 11-2 win for the Reds. But with a grand-slam by a pitcher—on his first career HR no less—and four-seam fastballs from a catcher, Cubs baseball always keep things interesting.