The Chicago Cubs were picked by many to be the odds-on favorite in the NL Central. It hasn't worked out so well; they are having a bad year, to put it lightly. Much of that trouble has come from three main sources: injuries, big names not performing (that’s you Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley), and the mother of it all, the bullpen.
Closer Kevin “Batting Practice” Gregg, Aaron “Vileman” Heilman, and set-up man Carlos “The BB” Marmol have combined to create an unholy triad of game-blowers that not many teams can match (the Diamondbacks are the only team that come to mind as having a worse bullpen).
After watching Gregg blow three-run leads repeatedly, Sweet Lou Piniella has understandably soured on the goggle-wearing slider-thrower, and today Marmol had the opportunity to close against the Reds.
It’s pretty much guaranteed that every Cubs fan who saw him go into the ninth held their breath and prayed for the next three outs. You see, Marmol is a walking disaster. He does not belong as a closer; he doesn’t even belong in his old role as set-up man.
Let’s discuss what a good closer IS. He needs two main things: electric stuff and a solid brain. Quite frankly, there’s no place in baseball for closers who nip corners or act like control pitchers. You want to play games with the umpire? Be a starter.
As a closer, it’s your job to challenge the hitter. They are losing, remember? That’s why you’re in the game.
Closers have the unique place in baseball as being the lone player who comes into a game only when his team is winning. When a pitcher is brought in to close out a game, they need to be firing at 125 percent for 20 pitches.
There’s no time for playing games. Go after the hitter and get him out. Jam him, handcuff him, pop him up…whatever you have to do to get that out as quickly as you can.
A good closer is not a lunatic, however. He needs to throw fire, but it needs to be under control. A perfect example of crazy gone wrong is Jose Valverde (HOU, formerly ARI). This guy is probably the third or fourth craziest man in all of baseball.
He talks to himself, he wanders around the infield, he plays with his socks...he’s foaming at the mouth mad. Is he a good closer? Sometimes, but only when Closer Jose shows up and not Crazy Jose.
With a closer, you can’t be taking that risk. You need a solid closer with a solid head on his shoulders. Look at Brad Lidge; he is perfectly fine as long as things go his way, as shown last year.
But this year, as soon as things started to go wrong, it snowballed. He got worse and worse and worse, until finally the eternally patient Charlie Manuel finally pulled him out...in September. But that’s beside the point.
Marmol has good stuff sometimes, but his mindset is not there. He acts like he is the only player on the team, and he needs to either strike the batter out or walk him. He runs up his pitch count by trying to force strikeouts that aren’t there.
Opponents aren’t hitting well off Marmol, but his walks are astronomical. He throws without a plan or purpose; he chucks the ball at the batter and hopes the guy at the plate swings at it, because if he doesn’t, it’s a ball.
This leads to his ridiculous amount of walks and wild pitches. The man walks two or three batters every outing, and his late-inning antics and lack of focus have caused much wringing of hands and a huge amount of alcohol ingestion on the part of Cubs fans over the year.
It’s bad enough when he walks a pair in the eighth, but walks and wild pitches in the ninth are inexcusable.
With the playoffs looming, and the Cubs desperately trying to take a stab at the Wild Card, putting a loose cannon who cannot control his emotions or the ball he throws in as closer is the absolute wrong move.