In Lou Piniella’s last trip to the World Series, he had a trio of fireballers in the ‘pen that became legendary after the Reds won it all. The Nasty Boys fired blanks throughout the post-season, and if the Cubs are going to win it all, their going to need their bullpen to do the same.
The Cubs relief crew leads the majors in K/9 (Strikeouts per inning) at 8.70, led by Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood, who average 11.93 and 11.43 respectively. You’d be hard pressed to find a 1-2 closing punch more dominating than these two. This is vital for a fan base that will understandably become nervous in close late-inning situations in the playoffs.
The key will be not to overwork these guys as it seems like these are the only two guys Lou trusts in close situations. That means the other guys in the 'pen will have to step-up in the playoffs. Here’s a profile of the Cubs Bullpen:
Long Man: Sean Marshall(LHP) ERA: 3.62 H: 2 SO:57 WHIP: 1.22
Jason Marquis(RHP) ERA: 4.43 W-L: 11-9 SO: 91 WHIP: 1.43(All as starter)
This is a vital role for the Cubs, because they have two starters who they will be looking to conserve in Rich Harden and Carlos Zambrano. Marshall earned himself a playoff spot after a string of strong performances after being called up in September, and is also vital as one of two southpaws in the ‘pen. As for Marquis, he should just be happy to make the playoff roster, as he hasn’t made one in the last three years, and the only time he should be in action is when the game is a blowout.
Lefty Specialist: Neil Cotts(LHP) ERA: 3.97 H:8 SO: 41 WHIP: 1.38
Cotts has the chance to make history as the only player to win a World Series with the Cubs and the Sox(‘05). Cotts has never quite regained the form he displayed for the Sox that year, but maybe the playoff intensity will bring it out in him. He will be the guy Lou calls on to face southpaws in the intricate chess-match that post-season games often become. He can also rack up the K’s as he’s only trails Wood and Marmol on the team at 10.43 K/9.
Righty Specialist: Jeff Samardzija(RHP) ERA:2.33 H:3 SO: 25 WHIP 1.41
Performing in front of packed houses in the majors has not fazed Samardzija as much as most rookies, because this young man played in front of more than 90,000 strong as a star WR for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Lou took an instant liking after Samardzija who was only called up in July, and wasn’t afraid to throw a rookie into the heat of a pennant race. It has paid off as the rook has been solid and has earned him a playoff spot in place of more experienced vets. The playoffs are a different story, and we'll see if he can hold up under the pressure.
Set-up Man: Carlos Marmol(RHP) ERA: 2.72 H: 29 SO:114 WHIP: 0.94
Some questioned his spot on the All-Star game roster, as he uncharacteristically struggled in the month before the game, but he has laid all critics to rest with a dominant 2nd half of the season. Carlos’s ERA is a measly 1.34 since the break. He’s rescued the Cubs out of plenty of tight situations this year, and he’ll be called on again by Lou when those situations get a little more nerve wrenching in the playoffs. He has a knack for trying to throw too hard sometimes, instead of trusting his natural stuff, and hopefully he won't revert to that by getting caught up in the playoff atmosphere. When he's on though, Lou doesn't have to worry about situational match-ups, because his stuff is too filthy for anyone to handle.
Closer: Kerry Wood(RHP) ERA: 3.31 S: 34 SO: 83 WHIP: 1.10
The longest tenured Cub on the roster will be making his fourth playoff appearance with the team, albeit in a completely different role than he’s used to. Wood’s resurgence as a closer has been one of the key reasons to the team’s success, and this post-season will be career-defining for the fireballer. Wood was compared to other hard-throwing Texans like Ryan and Clemens, when he announced his entry into to the major leagues with a 20 K game in 1998.
But his career has been derailed by a myriad of injuries, and it reached a turning point last year, when he was given one last chance to come back as a reliever. He’ll be looking to exercise the demons from 2003 as he started Game 7 of the NLCS and was shellacked in that heart-breaking loss to the Marlins. Cubs fans will be hoping that he’ll channel his clutch performances from the 2003 NLDS, when he dominated the Braves in Games 1 and 5 to lead the Cubs to their only post-season series victory in the last 100 years. Kid K’s career is representative of the Cubs struggle for the last century: unfulfilled promise.
We’ll see if him and the Cubs can finally change that legacy this year.