White Sox

Cubs expect Marmol to take control

696638.png

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.

A Jose Abreu awakening could make an already productive White Sox offense even more fearsome

A Jose Abreu awakening could make an already productive White Sox offense even more fearsome

Hitting has not been the biggest problem for the White Sox. But even after a win to kick off this week's series against the Baltimore Orioles, they're still under .500 and in fourth place in the aggressively weak AL Central.

There's a ton of baseball left, and their spot in the standings on April 22 indicates nothing about where they'll be at the end of September. But the issues that have cropped up in the early going — many of them having to do with what's gone on on the pitcher's mound — have signaled that another losing season in the thick of the ongoing rebuilding process wouldn't come as a great shock.

That point being established, there's still been more to smile about in the early going this season than there was perhaps in the entirety of the 2018 campaign, what Rick Hahn described from the beginning as "the toughest part of the rebuild." That turned out to be prescient, with the White Sox losing 100 games. This year, the early season emergence of Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and, to a lesser extent, Eloy Jimenez have made it so there are exciting reasons to pay attention to what's going on on the South Side, all the while making for a lineup that can push across a good deal of runs.

Now imagine if Jose Abreu wasn't hitting below the Mendoza Line.

He's not anymore after a big night Monday, but the guy who's arguably still the team's best hitter when everything's right hasn't been right very often so far in 2019. That could be starting to change, though, and if it does, a lineup that's already a heck of a lot more threatening to opposing pitchers than it was at any point in 2018 could become even more fearsome, even more productive. And that leads to more wins, important not just for fans hoping for a surprise run at relevancy given the weak state of the division, but for a team building a lineup for the future that it hopes is scoring a whole bunch of runs in meaningful games in seasons to come.

Abreu went 3-for-5 in Monday night's 12-2 laugher in Baltimore, the White Sox bats looking even better with an opportunity to feast on Orioles pitching, which entered as the worst staff in the majors with a 6.21 ERA and owned a 6.37 ERA after Monday's blowout. But it's a three-game hitting streak for a guy whose average was down to .174 after Thursday's series-opener in Detroit. Since, he's 6-for-15 with a homer and seven RBIs.

Maybe it's just a nice three-game stretch, boosted by a chance to swing against the big leagues' worst pitching staff. But it allows the White Sox to dream about a lineup made ever more dangerous by the regular production of a two-time All Star and one of the AL's reigning Silver Sluggers.

Again, offense has not been the main reason the White Sox are still underwater, from a win-loss perspective, at this point. They aren't exactly blowing the doors off the league when it comes to their offensive prowess, middle of the pack in baseball with 106 runs scored this season. But they entered Monday's game with a 5.44 team ERA, one of the four worst marks in the bigs. The bullpen's ERAs are still on their way down after short outings from the starting staff in the season's first couple of weeks forced them into unenviable situations. One run allowed in Monday's bullpen day should help with that. The team ERA shot down to 5.27 after Monday's game, still not enough to vault them out of the bottom six teams in the league.

But reliable versions of Anderson (who's still hitting over .400), Moncada and Jimenez are pieces this lineup didn't have last year, and they've been three of the best parts of it so far in 2019. Leury Garcia has been quietly productive if not flashy while doing it. James McCann, who hit a three-run homer to start the scoring in Monday night's rout, has put up good numbers in limited time while splitting catching duties with Welington Castillo. Even Ryan Cordell, only the team's starting right fielder for a few days, has shown promise with a couple homers already. There have been holes, of course, chiefly Yolmer Sanchez — who was still hitting under .100 on April 13 but is now batting .231 after a three-hit night Monday — and the sent-down Daniel Palka. Abreu and Yonder Alonso, in the middle of the White Sox order, have been unproductive, as well, while the younger guys have flourished around them.

But an Abreu turnaround — or, really, an awakening, considering how early it still is — would boost the numbers and make the lineup capable of even more on a regular basis.

It could also be another factor in the ongoing conversation about a potential Abreu contract extension. While Hahn has suggested it's unlikely that such a deal would be struck during the season, it wouldn't be surprising to see it come before Abreu is set to hit free agency once the 2019-20 offseason begins. The White Sox are such big fans of what Abreu does in the clubhouse and as a mentor for younger players that production might not play as big a role as it normally would. But obviously the consistency of that production in Abreu's first five big league seasons certainly helps. To keep that production going with a late-April awakening would be all the more reason to keep Abreu around for the transition from rebuilding to contending.

The White Sox lineup has been promising to this point. It could become downright potent if Abreu starts knocking the ball around as we all know he can.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: The bullpen falters twice. Is it time to call Craig Kimbrel?

kimbrel.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: The bullpen falters twice. Is it time to call Craig Kimbrel?

Mark Schanowski, Mark Carman and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel.

0:00- The Cubs take 2 out of 3 from the D'Backs thanks to a surprisingly solid start from Tyler Chatwood. Should the Cubs trust him more than they trust Yu Darvish? Meanwhile, the bullpen falters twice. Is it time to call Craig Kimbrel?

12:00- The guys preview the huge series against the Dodgers at Wrigley.

16:00- The White Sox lose 2 of 3 in Detroit but Kap is still excited about the future.

20:00- The NBA Eastern Conference playoffs are becoming a fight. So who will win the East? And can anybody even threaten the Warriors?

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

Subscribe: