The Cubs have their first of two scheduled off-days during spring training today, so let's first talk about Carlos Marmol's performance during the Netherlands' stunning 2-1 win over the Dominican Republic last night, a game that eliminated the DR from the WBC and will shortly send Marmol back to Cubs camp in Mesa.
It's very easy to overreact to an outing like this because of its importance. Whether or not you are into the WBC, the fact is, that especially for smaller countries like the Dominican, there is a great deal of national pride involved in playing, and winning. I can't imagine there are a lot of happy people there today, or happy players who were on the DR team.
Before yesterday, Marmol's other appearance in the WBC was a scoreless inning. Last night, he gave up a ringing double to the first batter he faced -- a ball that missed being a home run by maybe 10 feet -- then retired the next hitter on a groundout. After a single scored the tying run, Marmol's attempted pickoff got away, allowing the runner, former Baltimore Oriole Eugene Kingsale, to go to third. After a strikeout, ex-Cub Randall Simon was intentionally walked (is he THAT good a hitter? Marmol might have been able to strike him out!), setting up the game-winning play, on the inning's second error, by 1B Willy Aybar.
Marmol failed. He's failed before, but we all know how good he can be when he's on. Sometimes I worry about games like this one against the Giants last July 12, when a Marmol error helped the Giants tie a game that had been well in hand (and that Marmol was only in because, I think, Lou wanted to give him some time in what should have been a no-brainer game after he had been struggling). There's little doubt in my mind that Derrek Lee, an outstanding defensive 1B, would have helped Marmol out in a situation like last night by either: a) catching the missed pickoff, or b) not missing the game-ending grounder, or both.
So let's not overreact. I will, however, stand by my statements I have made several times, that I think a pitcher of Marmol's talent and ability is, many times, better served by being used in tough situations in the 7th or 8th innings (runners on, tie game, for example), than in what might be a lower-leverage closing situation (9th inning, bases empty, 2 or 3 run lead). Marmol will be back in camp soon and I'd expect him to throw again as early as Friday, when the Cubs have a split squad. (Incidentally, can any native Spanish speakers here tell us the correct pronunciation of his name? Last night's announcers said "mar-MOL". But I have also heard "MAR-mol". Which is right?)
A final note, having watched almost all of last night's game: I'm sold on the WBC. Upsets like this, with a team expected to bow out early making the second round, make this a much more interesting tournament. Though there have been some blowouts, there have also been several well-played, tight games, and last night's Netherlands comeback was both impressive and exciting. I, for one, can't wait for round two.
Other Cub notes: Gordon Wittenmyer's notes column has this nugget:
[Lou] Piniella said he plans to skip his fifth starter (probably Sean Marshall) the first time through the rotation because of a day off between the first two series. That means Zambrano and Dempster will pitch in that early Milwaukee series.
There's the first indication that Marshall has probably won the fifth starter derby -- and good for Lou for skipping him. This will mean, possibly, that the Cubs could go with an extra position player for the first week or two. Also from that notes column:
Third baseman Corey Koskie, signed to a minor-league deal last week, could join the Cubs on Thursday, Piniella said. Koskie, who's trying to come back from more than a year out of the game because of concussion symptoms, played in the WBC for Team Canada, which was eliminated Monday. He must pass a physical before the deal is finalized.
Also good... the Cubs could use a backup 3B, and I assume if Koskie was OK to play for Canada, he'll pass that physical.
The Chicago City Council, on the recommendation of Ald. Tom Tunney, will today approve the third concert for Wrigley Field this summer. This was expected, given that tickets for the Rascal Flatts show have already been sold. However:
"It's a Saturday night. That's a problem. They're stretching the envelope. It's gonna be a challenge. But, there's a good chance both of these events will be successful. The city is committed to using its resources to handle multiple events," Tunney said.
"They'll have an extra one this year. We'll go back to the drawing board. And if these concerts are not successful, there'll be no more concerts. They may not have one next year."
Also in news involving the area around the ballpark, the Cubs are once again in a dispute with one of the rooftop owners, who is refusing to pay his contractually obligated 17% to the Cubs because a Jumbotron blocked some of his customers' views during the Winter Classic. Opinion: this guy is in breach of contract and will be forced to pay up.
Finally, although teams like the Brewers and Reds are cutting concession prices in the wake of the economic troubles, don't expect the Cubs to do the same. I'm guessing that with concession prices as high as they have been in recent years, the Cubs will see much lower sales, unless they decide to change their minds once the season begins.