Chicago Fire: The Cubs bullpen is officially a mess

There are no easy answers in the North Side bullpen right now. Nobody's right if everybody's wrong.

Alas, we're just in it for the handshakes, the stat grab, so we have to trudge along. It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

The Carlos Marmol blown save tour hit Cincinnati this week, and his mess Thursday afternoon might be enough to force a change. Marmol didn't retire any of the five batters he faced (one hit, three walks, one critical infield error), and as a result he fritted away the 3-0 lead Ryan Dempster entrusted to him. Marmol couldn't command his slider or his fastball; only six of his 18 pitches went for strikes.

Marmol's ERA jumped to 6.23 after the outing, and his WHIP stands at 2.31. He's walked 12 men against eight strikeouts over his 8.2 innings of work. His ball still moves plenty, but he has no idea where it's going.

If you want to defend Marmol's latest mess, you can point to the grounder that Ian Stewart botched. Stewart had an easy out on the play if he fielded the ball cleanly, and a double play was a possibility. Instead he let the ball play him and the Reds were given an extra out (perhaps two) to work with. When you're rolling bad, you don't seem to get the breaks.  

We should also point out that technically Marmol wasn't tagged with a blown save from Thursday's game (damn you, Jerome Holtzman); the Cubs were still ahead by a run when Marmol was lifted, so the save situation transferred to Rafael Dolis, the ensuing reliever. All Dolis had to do is retire three men and strand the bases loaded and he'd be given his first career handshake. Talk about working without a net.

Dolis actually handled the ninth skillfully — he coaxed a double-play grounder from Devin Mesoraco, which tied the game, then ended the inning on a strikeout. But his luck ran out in the tenth, when Cincinnati won the game on a single, an error from Dolis, and a sacrifice fly. Skyline Chili for everyone, this one belongs to the Reds.

Enough of the action on the field. Here's what Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times had to report from the Cubs locker room:

After his latest ninth-inning meltdown, Carlos Marmol might lose his closer job.

"There's definitely a thought of it now,'' Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "I can't lie to you."

Sveum said James Russell — the only left-hander in his bullpen — and rookie Rafael Dolis are the options he would consider, leaving former All-Star closer Kerry Wood out of the discussion in the aftermath of Thursday's loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

Okay, that's a start. Russell and Dolis could be in the mix, and Wood apparently isn't. Unfortunately, the statistical cases for Russell and Dolis aren't particularly strong.

Russell has 7.2 scoreless innings to his credit this year (6 H, 4 BB, 8 K), that sounds nice. But his career numbers don't point to a high-leverage role. Right-handed batters have a .305/.360/.465 career slash against the lefty; that could be a problem if he's asked to close. And for his career he has an ordinary strikeout rate and a low ground-ball rate; again, this is not the profile of a ninth-inning stopper.

Dolis has a 3.52 ERA and 1.24 WHIP after his matinee appearance, and he's been one of the trusted relievers on the club all year. But then you see his backward K/BB rate (just four whiffs against eight walks) and you want to run the other way. His five seasons in the minors were lukewarm at best: 3.69 ERA, 6.9 K/9, 4.5 BB/9. Keep in mind he never pitched above Double-A in the minors.

What's going to happen here? You've got me. Maybe Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio can find a way to fix Marmol; if you own Marmol, take heart that he still has the highest upside on the club, and he's not being chased by anyone exciting. Perhaps Wood will get back into the mix if and when his shoulder appears healthy. Maybe Dolis or Russell will get their chance and run with it. (Or maybe the hapless Cubs won't see another save chance until August; by then, the Bears will own the city. Mike Ditka certainly wouldn't stand for this weakness in the clutch.)

For those of you who aren't desperate for saves, be lucky you don't have to waste time, waiver resources and roster space on this fool's errand. For those that need the handshakes desperately, I welcome your comments in the section below. Maybe something good will come out of this mess eventually. Place your bets, save chasers.

Friday Confirmation: Marmol is out, at least for now. Dolis and Russell will head up the committee. The Cubs have a matinee game with the Dodgers coming, so we might have another stand-alone meltdown to watch in a few hours.

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