First, it didn't help matters any when the Cubs loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the eighth, leading 5-1, and didn't score. Not even one run, with the top of the order up. They could have put the game away and not had Marmol anywhere near the mound. These kinds of things happen, but that was a particularly bad time for it to happen, because...
Kyuji Fujikawa, who had been pretty good in his first two appearances, had a rough inning, giving up three runs and making the score 5-4. Fujikawa got hit very hard. Is this a sign of things to come? We honestly don't know; there's too little evidence of him pitching in the major leagues, just three games. Hopefully, it isn't.
The Cubs had fashioned a 5-1 lead by that eighth inning on a very good 13-hit attack that featured a pair of home runs, one by Anthony Rizzo, one by Luis Valbuena (Valbuena always surprises me when he hits for power). Nate Schierholtz and Welington Castillo had two hits each, and Castillo also stole a base in the ninth inning. That was his first SB attempt in the major leagues and his first steal anywhere since 2009. It would have been nice if his teammates had picked him up and gotten a hit to score him, because that would have given Marmol a two-run cushion.
What's wrong with Marmol? It doesn't appear physical -- he was throwing fastballs at 95 miles per hour. But hitters have clearly figured him out -- he's faced 13 batters this year and retired four of them (recording five outs because Neil Walker hit into that game-ending double-play Thursday in Pittsburgh). He's given up six hits, two walks and hit a batter, and the home runs by the Upton brothers won the game for the Braves. Both home runs were crushed to center field.
It's the first game in Marmol's three appearances that his pitching actually cost the team the game. The first one, Dale Sveum salvaged by getting Marmol out of there before he could blow the save; the second, Marmol "saved" with the aforementioned double play. I put "saved" in quotes because he nearly blew a 3-0 lead before getting that DP ball.
All of this is ruining what has been, at least the first time through the Cubs' rotation, some very good starting pitching. Carlos Villanueva, in his Cubs debut, pitched very well, allowing just one run -- a solo homer by Justin Upton. He struck out six and had the game well in hand before departing with two out in the seventh. Cubs starters have allowed 31 hits and 15 walks in 42⅓ innings for a solid 1.087 WHIP. Keep up this kind of pitching and the team will win games -- if they can figure out something to do with the closer position.
Here's Dale's idea:
#Cubs Sveum says they'll talk about options for closer other than Marmol. Suggests Camp, Russell, who have been efficient— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) April 7, 2013
I guess. Shawn Camp and James Russell have pitched well for more than just the start of this season, though moving Russell out of his setup position could hurt the earlier innings. It's been written many times, by me and others, that you have to put your best relievers in the highest-leverage situations, whether those are seventh, eighth, or ninth-inning situations. To me, the idea that using pitchers because the save rule dictates you use one designated "closer" in the ninth inning needs to be changed. That's letting the statistic drive your use of your bullpen.
How many times have we seen a "setup man" breeze through an eighth inning on seven or eight pitches, only to see a "closer" come in and blow the game? And I'm not just talking about Cubs pitchers; I'm talking about many, many other teams. Why not let that eighth-inning guy at least start the ninth?
Dale Sveum doesn't seem to me to be the type of manager who'd go outside the box on thinking like this, but maybe he could. Some managers talk about "closer by committee" when their "official" closer fails like Marmol has failed, but within a short time they go back to one person. Why do this? Why not use your bullpen to the situation?
For now, I believe Marmol has to be demoted to pitch in mopup situations only, when the team is either ahead or behind by several runs, until he recovers the form he had in 2010. He might never do so. Yes, of course the Cubs would like to deal him, but who would take a pitcher throwing the way Marmol is right now? No one.
This Cubs team will struggle offensively at times, but when they score five runs on 13 hits, they really ought to win. It didn't happen Saturday night. They still have a chance to finish up a season-starting road trip with a 3-3 record, which would be nice. The preview for Sunday afternoon's game will post at 11 a.m. CT.