We should all be happy this morning, after the Cubs' 4-2 win over the Reds put them in a first-place tie with the Cardinals.
Well, sure, but there are still these nagging questions: "What's wrong with Carlos Marmol? Why can't he throw strikes consistently?"
Marmol, closing last night in place of Kevin Gregg, who has a tired arm and might get today off in addition to his day off on Monday, had an agonizing 36-pitch ninth inning. His boxscore line shows 23 strikes in 36 pitches, but that's a bit misleading. Seven of those "strikes" were foul balls hit by Alex Gonzalez after Marmol had run the count to 0-2; it's difficult to know how many of those balls were actually in the strike zone and how many Gonzalez was swinging at to protect the plate and just get a piece of.
Gonzalez ripped Marmol's 11th pitch to him down the LF line for a RBI double before Marmol got Willy Taveras to hit a ground ball to Derrek Lee to end the game.
So what's the problem? It can't be physical, because there's no trouble with Marmol's velocity; he was flinging fastballs at 96 MPH last night (at least according to the WCIU graphics), but he had no command of many of them. Marmol's out pitch has always been that electric slider; it almost seems as if he doesn't trust the slider as much as he wants to blow people away with the fastball. This happened for several weeks last year, too, but eventually Marmol figured it out and went back to his 2007 level. This year, he hasn't really had command the entire season, walking nearly one an inning and hitting 10 batters. The 10 HBP, incidentally, leads the National League and no pitcher who is a full-time reliever has ever led a league in this category.
Let's hope he figures it out. Soon.
Marmol's shakiness nearly ruined another outstanding outing by Randy Wells, who might have had a shot at his first major league complete game. He threw a few too many pitches in the seventh inning and then with one out in the eighth, Gonzalez hit a home run off Wells. Lou decided to leave him in to see if he could get out of the inning; he got one more out but after another hit, John Grabow came in and finished off the inning.
That gave Wells 102.1 innings pitched in 104 team games, just short of what he'd need to qualify for the league leaders list. With a 2.73 ERA after last night's game, if Wells were on the leaderboard he'd rank sixth in the National League, just behind Wandy Rodriguez and also trailing Chris Carpenter, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Dan Haren -- a very impressive list of pitchers. Presuming he makes his next start five games down the road, that will be the Cubs' 109th team game, so he'd need to throw at least 6.2 innings to make the league leaders. He has thrown that many innings in 10 of his 16 starts, so I'd expect he'll break onto that list with his next outing, and also has to now be among the favorites for the Rookie of the Year award, especially now that Colby Rasmus isn't playing every day.
Wells didn't pay back Aaron Harang for the three-run homer Harang hit off him at Wrigley Field (although he did get his first ML extra-base hit, a double); he left that revenge to Mike Fontenot, whose three-run shot in the second inning turned out to be enough to win the game. Fontenot also singled. The Cubs could have used some extra runs given Marmol's troubles and not getting more than one run in the eighth inning despite loading the bases with one out is a bit concerning.
Kosuke Fukudome continues to perform well from the leadoff spot -- since he was moved there more or less permanently on July 4, he is hitting .302/.408/.488 in 104 plate appearances, much more in line with what we had hoped for when he signed his four-year contract before the 2008 season. His season line of .271/.388/.443 gives him a .831 OPS -- raise that another 30 or 40 points, entirely doable, and you've got a very productive major league outfielder who also plays plus defense. So Lou -- leave him there. It's working.
Onward. This series is eminently sweepable. Go for it.