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Groundhog Day: Kevin Gregg Gives Up Walkoff Again, Cubs Lose 4-1

There's no sugarcoating this one. (Thanks to San Diego Smooth Jazz Man for the headline suggestion.)

Kevin Gregg gave up his second walkoff home run this month -- after being one strike away from nailing down a save. Kyle Blanks' three-run homer gave the Padres a 4-1 win over the Cubs, dropping them to six games off the NL Central lead (with the Cardinals defeating the Dodgers 3-2) and four games out of the wild card lead.

It was Gregg's sixth blown save of the year and Lou Piniella has, at last, had enough:

After Kevin Gregg gave up four two-out runs in the ninth inning in a 4-1 loss to the Padres on Monday night, Piniella said he plans on removing Gregg from the closer's role.

"I think we're going to make some changes as far as what we're going to do in late innings," Piniella said. "We'll have some more tomorrow [Tuesday]."

Piniella didn't say who would be his new closer, though Carlos Marmol and Angel Guzman are considered the likeliest candidates.

"And death is not an option": if Lou chooses Marmol, the blown-save parade is likely to continue, only it would take longer; Marmol's M.O. this year has been to blow leads via walks -- he's allowed only one home run this season. Gregg, on the other hand, has given up 12 homers. That is, as Gordon Wittenmyer points out:

... tops among relievers in the league and more than starters Randy Wells or Carlos Zambrano in a fraction of the innings.

So to me, the choice is obvious: Guzman, despite his relative lack of major league experience. He has been the Cubs' best reliever all year. Gregg has talent, but at this point he has to go back to Aaron Heilman territory and be used only in low-leverage situations.

Gregg's blowup ruined an outstanding return from the DL by Ted Lilly, who threw six shutout innings and allowed only four singles and a walk. He was going to be limited to 85-90 pitches but was pulled after only 70 for PH Sam Fuld, who singled. This was a waste for two reasons: one, it made the bullpen come into the game earlier, and two, it took Fuld out of consideration for defensive-replacement duty in the ninth inning. Do you think Fuld might have caught up with Chase Headley's ninth-inning double? Maybe not, but he'd have had a much better shot at it than Jake Fox did. The Cubs played shorthanded last night with Ryan Theriot not available (he should be in San Diego tonight after staying home an extra day with stomach flu). Why not use Jeff Baker as a pinch-hitter in that seventh-inning slot?

John Grabow and Marmol did a good job last night at keeping the game close after the Cubs had scored their only run on a Derrek Lee double and Aramis Ramirez RBI single.

And then came Gregg's disastrous inning.

Like I said, I'm not going to sugarcoat. That was a bad game, and Gregg is going to be replaced at closer. But if you are looking for me to say "it's over", you should know me well enough by now to know I won't do that with 46 games remaining in the season. The dead-tree edition of the Tribune (can't find this online) had an instructive chart showing the remaining games for the Cubs and Cardinals. It reads:
The Cubs and Cardinals meet for three in St. Louis and have 21 identical games on the schedule (same opponent, same home/road). Each plays the Reds three times (Cubs at home, Cardinals on the road). Here are the games that don't cancel out:

CUBS               CARDINALS
4 at Giants        3 at Rockies
1 at Dodgers       1 at Padres
3 vs. Mets         3 vs. Marlins
3 at Mets          3 vs. Braves
4 vs. Pirates      3 at Astros
3 vs. D'backs      3 vs. Brewers
1 vs. White Sox

It would appear to me that the Cubs have a slight schedule advantage; the Cubs also may have a bit of an advantage in the wild-card race because the Braves and Marlins play each other 10 more times, and the Giants and Rockies also play each other 10 times. Those four could knock each other out while the Cubs sneak ahead.

But to do so, the Cubs have to start winning games, especially vs. bad teams like the Padres. Start tonight, please.