The Cubs bullpen has caused many heartaches, gray hairs and collective breaths to cease. Dempster and Garza pitched gems in the first two games of the 2012 season, carrying late game leads against the Nationals, while Cubs fans helplessly watched as the bullpen seemingly gave the games away. From this moment on, fans have been overly critical and skeptic whenever a reliever begins to warm-up.
The bullpen is 3-7, with 4 SV, a 3.90ERA, in 80.2IP. Collectively, the have allowed 70H, 35ER, 45BB, 6HR and struck out 61 batters. Most notably, the bullpen has given away 3 games in which the Cubs should have walked away with a win, squandering the lead late in a game. They have also been credited with 4 additional losses when the game has either been tied or the Cubs held a 1-run lead.
To Manager Dale Sveum’s credit, he has given every player on the active roster time to adjust to the 2012 season before making any roster moves. However, Marmol’s latest meltdown prompted Sveum to finally address the bullpen woes.
After Marmol single-handedly cost the team yet another win in a 3-4 loss to the Reds in extras, Sveum announced a change at the closer position, designating Russell and Dolis as a closer-by-committee duo.
Three righties: Dolis, Bowden and Camp, and a lefty: Russell, are now the perceived bullpen rotation. The four relievers have a combined record of 3-3, a 2.37ERA, allowed 14ER, 15BB and 30SO in 48.0IP. In last nights’ come from behind victory, Camp, Russell and Dolis combined for 5.0IP, allowing 3H and no runs or walks. This is exactly how the bullpen needs to conduct business day-in and day-out.
The Cubs batters have proven the ability to get hits and score runs throughout the season, as the team has yet to be shutout. The pen allowed for the hitters to come through late in the game, tie the score and ultimately win in extras. Had the pen been able to perform in this manner earlier in the season, the Cubs could be sitting atop the NL Central, with a record of 18-10.
I would still like to see the Cubs acquire a more experienced closer, one who has confidence and can also mentor a young future potential closer. But for now, at least Sveum finally booted Marmol and I’m certain the front office is looking for trade potentials. I just hope Russell and Dolis can carry the load for the interim.
Cubs’ fans know, just as the previous 103 seasons, this is likely not the year. Expectations of ending the longest drought of a professional sports team without a championship is unlikely to occur during the 2012 MLB season. However, amassing countless number of losses is greatly unacceptable. Many fans would be grateful if the Cubs finish one game above .500, but doubt this will likely happen (read Bullpen Brian’s post of the subject here). I simply ask the Cubs to be contenders in each game, playing one game at a time and giving the fans the best possible lineup from our club for each game. Here are my two suggestions to Dale Sveum and the Cubs’ ownership that need to change now!
Improve the Bullpen
Every game when the Cubs have a lead and Wood comes in as the setup man and/or Marmol comes in as the closer to get the win, Cubs’ fans will be holding their collective breathes all season long; I’m sure the organization and coaching staff will do the same. The issue is these two pitchers are the veterans of the bullpen. If, and when, one of them struggles, the depth of experience within the pen is cut in half. And if both of these pitchers struggle as we’ve seen in the first two games of the season…!?
The Cubs recently called up Rodrigo Lopez, a 10-year veteran righty who made his season debut last night (2IP, 0H, 0ER, 1K, 1BB) and also have Shawn Camp, an 8-year veteran righty who is 0-1 in relief appearances this season (3.1IP, 7H, 3ER, 3K, 0BB). But both pitchers are 36 years-old, likely nearing the end of their careers and are not a longterm solution.
The Cubs have three active relief pitchers with a combined three years of experience in Lendy Castillo (23), Rafael Dolis (24) and James Russell (26). The three relief pitchers have combined for 6.1IP, 1H, 1ER, 5BB, 4K, 1.00ERA, 0.86WHIP. The trio has promising numbers, well, at least better than Wood and Marmol have performed so far this season. If the Cubs’ organization is not going to pursue options outside of the organization, then Sveum should focus on developing these pitchers throughout the season to establish potential setup men and/or a future closer.
Reorder the Batting Lineup
Many analyst/fans agree Starlin Castro is a great player and possible future star at shortstop, but he is in wo-way shape or form a #3 power hitter. I believe the theory behind Sveum placing Castro third in the batting order is in belief if the first two batters get on base and Castro can duplicate his batting average from 2011 (.307: 207 of 674), than the Cubs will ultimately score runs often. However, my arguments for moving Castro back to first in the order are as follows:
1) The third position in the batting lineup should be a guy who can physically handle the position, but more importantly, mentally affect the game. He should rattle the nerves of an average pitcher from the opposing team, while also giving you the potential for late game heroics. Castro does not have this effect. He only hit 10 home-runs in 2011 with 674 AB. The power to hit balls out of Wrigley with the wind blowing in is not there and the intimidation he projects is less than many batters in the same position (as seen in the 9th inning against the Brewers).
2) Castro had 24 stolen bases throughout 2011 and has the speed to improve on this number for 2012. Granted Castro has four stolen bases within the first week of the season, his attempts will be limited throughout the season if even one batter ahead of him reaches base. With the aggressive base running Sveum wants to use, Castro could easily be in scoring position before the second batter even leaves the box. This would greatly improve the potential for runs being scored within the first inning and thereafter. He would also intimidate pitchers by his on-base presences and potential for stealing bases.
3) With his .307 batting average from 2011, Castro is bound to reach base. Soriano has hit 20+ home-runs in each of his last 10 seasons and is currently batting a .353 with four RBIs. Soriano has the power and presences needed that a #3 hitter HAS to have. He intimidates pitchers and can change the outcome of a game with one swing of his bat. He has the experience and confidence to bat in that position with runners in scoring position.
As I stated, realistic Cubs’ fans don’t hold high expectations for this season, however, that doesn’t mean a high number of losses this season will be easily tolerated. This fan would like to see the perviously mentioned changes to occur sooner than later, especially the reshuffling of the batting order.
What are your thoughts?
I’m embarrassed to admit that I have been a diehard Cubs fan of unwaivered support and had yet to visit Wrigley Field; even though I had lived a short two hours west of Chicago for 15 years. Finally, while home on R&R from Afghanistan September 2011, my fiancée (at the time) surprised me with tickets to my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field.
We had tickets for the September 16th Astros v. Cubs. Our seats were along the third base line, six rows from the bullpen holding area, just to the left of the Cubs dugout. It was a chilly, overcast, autumn day; but I was as excited as a kid on Christmas day. I took pictures of everything visible and was in complete ‘aw’ of the history surrounding Wrigley Field.
The atmosphere was exciting; even though the Cubs post-season chances ended at the beginning of August. However, the real excitement was lying ahead with a couple of surprises my fiancée had arranged.
At the end of the sixth inning, a ‘Cubs Ambassador’ comes to our seats with a VIP package full of Cubs memorabilia and thanked me for my service. I received a few hats, sweat bands, pictures of Wrigley and the starting picture for the Cubs. I thought it to be a pretty generous gift. Then shortly after the seventh inning stretch (sang by Martin Sheen), a Cubs bullpen coach pointed to me and motioned for me to come down!
I approach the ‘sideline’ of the Cubs bullpen, and the Coach identifies himself as Lester Strode. He states he heard that I was home on leave from Afghanistan and attending my first Cubs game. I reply and he says, “From a grateful Cubs organization, (we) thank you for everything you and your family sacrifice for (us).” He then hands me a baseball, shakes my hand, and tells me to be safe with the rest of my deployment.
I return to my seat before I even look at the ball. There’s a grass stain, indicating the ball was used during the game, and 12 signatures. The ball was signed by: Lester Strode (Bullpen Coach), Mark Riggins (Bullpen Coach), Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija, Andrew Lane, Edgar Tovar, Andrew Cashner, John Gaub, John Grabow, Ramon Ortiz and James Russell.
Unbeknownst to me, when I went to the restroom, my fiancée went to the bullpen sideline and spoke to the bullpen coach. She told Lester Strode the circumstances surrounding my first Cubs game, and asked if there would be anyway for a Cubs player to sign a ball and give it to me. Lester told her he couldn’t make any promises, but he would see what he could do. Neither of us expected what Lester did for us.
So the game continues, and of course I’m riding ‘cloud-9’ for the remainder of the game. The Cubs gave up the lead in the top of the ninth, but the game continued into extra innings, twelve to be exact, meaning free baseball. Ultimately, the Cubs pull out the win and you would have thought the Cubs had clinched a playoff berth with the excitement surrounding the ballpark. And then of course, we all sang ‘Go Cubs, Go!’ with the celebration of the win.
All-in-all, this is an unforgettable first Cubs game at Wrigley Field and the Cubs organization really went out of their way. But my fiancée made all of this possible and I’m lucky to have shared the experience with a woman like her.