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Casey Coleman, Cubs Blank Astros; Marmol Nearly Unhittable Since 9/1

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Maybe it's just a kid looking good in September games that don't mean very much -- this is what happened last year when I saw Justin Berg and Esmailin Caridad throw well in the last month and thought they could anchor the 2010 bullpen.

OK, so I was wrong. Maybe I'll be wrong about Casey Coleman, too, but right now it sure looks like he can be a productive, contributing member of the 2011 starting rotation.

Coleman threw seven solid innings in the Cubs' 2-0 win over the Astros. The Cubs now have shut out their opponents for 21 consecutive innings and the bullpen has thrown 23.1 straight scoreless frames. The win evened up the Cubs' record in shutouts (14-14) and made them 39-40 in the season's second half (meaning the 2nd 81 games, not just the games since the All-Star break).

They have a chance to have a winning record in the second half by completing the sweep; they'd also finish with a winning record on the road if they do so.

But the story last night was Coleman. He finished his season with his best overall start, allowing no runs and six hits with just one walk in seven innings. Since being moved into the rotation, in eight starts he's thrown 48.2 innings (averaging more than six innings per start), with a 3.33 ERA and 1.36 WHIP and only three home runs allowed. Obviously, those aren't "ace" numbers or anything close to it, but numbers like that would make you a very serviceable fifth starter.

Coleman doesn't have great velocity and will never strike out a lot of hitters. But you can see, as we all did last night, that when he locates the ball well he can retire batters quickly and easily. One man who might be able to help Coleman become consistently good is Greg Maddux, who also never blew hitters away, but won with location and movement.

This is not to imply that Coleman could ever become as good as Greg Maddux -- but maybe, just maybe, the Cubs have found their #5 starter for next year. And for good measure, Coleman even drove in a run with a double last night.

Carlos Marmol threw a 1-2-3 ninth for his 38th save, which ties him with Randy Myers (1995) for the third-highest single season save total in Cubs history. It was also his 61st career save, which put him past Phil Regan for sixth-most in the history of the franchise. Still to come: 1950s and 1960s era reliever Don Elston (63, all of them retroactive, as they were posted before the save became an official stat), and then Ryan Dempster (87), who he can pass next year.

What's most impressive are Marmol's numbers since September 1. He has appeared in 16 games, allowed zero runs, has 14 saves and no blown saves, and in 15.2 innings has allowed two (yes, 2) hits, 10 walks (for a WHIP of 0.77) and has 27 strikeouts. 15.2 innings is 47 outs; 27 of those (57.4%) have been by strikeout. Put another way: Marmol has faced 62 batters since September 1. Of those, 40 have failed to put the ball in play (27 strikeouts, 10 walks, three HBP), and only two have hit safely, both singles: Ike Davis of the Mets on September 4, and Yorvit Torrealba last Monday in San Diego. Torrealba's hit was nearly an out, too -- that was the one that Blake DeWitt cut in front of Starlin Castro, and Torrealba barely beat the throw.

An amazingly impressive month from Marmol, and perhaps a sign of things to come for next year.