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Come To Think Of It: Cubs Bullpen is Missing Piece of the Championship Puzzle

Bob Warja@@bobwarjaSenior Writer IApril 18, 2009

Look, I know that every team has issues in their bullpen, so this isn't an attempt to discuss the obvious.

But for a team that is supposedly the best team in the NL Central, Cubs GM Jim Hendry has built a club that is flawed in one very critical area, the pen.

Yes, the Cubs allowed Kerry Wood to leave because they figured Carlos Marmol was ready to assume the closer role, but just to make sure, Hendry acquired Kevin Gregg; who blew the most saves of anyone last year.

Gregg has not instilled much confidence thus far. Neither has many of his mates.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella has no confidence in left-hander Neal Cotts, or right-handers Luis Vizcaino or Angel Guzman.

David Patton, who pitched so well in the spring, has never pitched above Class A.

Several lefties were available this spring, rather cheaply in fact, yet Hendry did not even bat an eye.

It's no coincidence that the teams who played for the National League pennant last October, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, had the top two bullpens in the league.

So, is there a secret to how a bullpen can get better?

''You just have to pitch better,'' Aaron Heilman said. ''There's no magic formula.''

There isn't a whole lot missing on this team, to be honest. The lineup is solid, and the starting staff should be good enough to win the division, unless injuries come up and bite us.

The bench is good, with the always-ready Reed Johnson, versatile Aaron Miles and speedy Joey Gathright (though Gathright could have saved the dramatics and won the game himself on Saturday if he had a better AB).

Backup catcher Koyie Hill did a nice job while Geo Soto was nursing his sore shoulder.

Micah Hoffpauir hits the ball hard most of the time, and is a clear upgrade over what we had from the left side last season, save for Mike Fontenot, who is now starting.

So that leaves the bullpen as the remaining piece of the championship puzzle. Perhaps Hendry will be able to find some help around the trade deadline. In the meantime, two pitchers are throwing well at Iowa.

I almost hate to mention the name, but Chad Fox seems healthy, though for how long is anybody's guess. And Jason Waddell is throwing the ball very well right now for Iowa.

By the way, though this isn't a bullpen note, Jeff Samardzija had a solid start for Iowa on Saturday. He allowed two runs on only one hit over six innings, though the bullpen blew the game for Iowa.

Jeff Stevens, acquired in the Mark DeRosa salary dump, struck out three of the four batters he faced. If Stevens were left-handed, he'd be pitching in Wrigley right now.

One of the concerns I have is the use, or should I say over use of Carlos Marmol. He has appeared in seven of the Cubs first 11 games.Β 

Kudos to Angel Guzman, who finally was useful for the Cubs on Saturday. We need more of that, come to think of it. Meanwhile, let's savor two wins against a tough Cardinals ballclub.

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