Entering each of the last two seasons (if not the last three), I was very confident that the Chicago Cubs would suck. It is by design, it is the byproduct of a plan with which I agree, and it is the way it has to be. But each of those seasons, when you actually experience the suck – and it hits you earlier and earlier each season - it’s hard to swallow.
- That all said, the platitudes are all true, and they’re easier to say now that the day after has arrived: last night’s loss was just one game. Many losses are of the frustrating, “what might have been” variety. Even if the Cubs aren’t expected to be any good this year, they’ve played just five games. If they win today, they split a couple road series against the Pirates and Braves, and did so at far less than 100% strength. If you can set aside the feeling of last night, you’d take a .500 start, yes?
- About Carlos Marmol: it’s time to make a change. It was time a couple days ago, but that’s no longer relevant. Continuing to allow Marmol to close isn’t good for the Cubs (they risk losing games they should win), it isn’t good for Marmol (can you imagine what’s going on in his head right now?), and it isn’t good for the Cubs’ long-term (Marmol’s value is *not* going to be magically reclaimed simply by virtue of racking up shaky saves). The best thing for everyone is to move Marmol into a less-visible, less-pressure-packed setup role, and hope that he pitches well there for a few months. From there, given that no team was going to view him as a closing option anyway, maybe he has a sliver of trade value as a setup guy. At least then, if he succeeds, there’s a narrative: “He simply couldn’t handle being a closer, but, see, he’s always been a dominant setup man. You should want him as YOUR dominant setup man!”
- It sounds like that’s probably going to happen. Dale Sveum told the media that the Cubs are “definitely going to think about” making a change in the ninth inning, and mentioned Shawn Camp and James Russell as possibilities. “You got Camp and Russell that seem to be pretty efficient when they pitch,” Sveum said, per ESPNChicago. “They’ve never had to do the last three outs of the game, but there is a mix of pitches. Those are options.”
- The elephant in the room in those comments? Sveum didn’t mention the obvious, purported closer-in-the-waiting, Kyuji Fujikawa. Is that because Fujikawa really wouldn’t be given the chance to close, or is it simply because Fujikawa had just given up three runs in an ugly 8th inning and Sveum didn’t want to bring undue attention onto him? (UPDATE: Fujikawa is now the closer.)
- Carlos Villanueva, who’s nice debut was spoiled by the bullpen woes, offered another quintessential Villanueva quote, per Cubs.com: “I’m more concerned for how [Marmol] feels. Results are going to change, obviously. We all want to do well, we want to win every game. I’m more concerned about him as a human being. I’ve known him for a long time, and I know he’ll come back tomorrow and try to get it done again.” I really hope Villanueva proves to be awesome. I already like him as a human being.
- On the substance of Villanueva’s comment: we could all stand to remember that Marmol – and all the Cubs’ players, coaches, management, etc. – is a human being. He’s not just images on a screen, or numbers on a stat sheet. There are ways to discuss disappointment with his performance without lowering yourself.
- Theo Epstein offers some love for Luis Valbuena, who finally put together a good game last night. “Part of the reason we were comfortable gambling on bringing Ian [Stewart] back was we felt we had Valbuena as a real good safety net,” Epstein told the Tribune. “He’s someone who played real good, underrated defense (last season). If you look observationally or by the numbers, he was one of the best handful of third basemen in the game, so that adds value. Obviously his offense, though he had his moments, it wasn’t really a consistent season.”