So today I could easily write about how Carlos Zambrano has further proved he is the Cubs most valuable player, or how the Cubs have an 8-game winning streak and a 24-games-with-a-lead streak, but today I'm going to write about the big subject that's looming on the horizon for Cubs fans to discuss soon and that's the bullpen.
Now right now you're thinking I'm going to bring up Carlos Marmol's bad 9th inning, and I will, but that's just the small picture. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is a bigger issue and that's wear and tear.
You saw it with Marmol. After pitching through the 8th inning last night without causing himself problems, Lou Pinella sent the Cubs' set-up man out again in the 9th. I have a problem with that. I have a problem with one of the Cubs' top assets being asked to go two innings with a 4-run lead. Was Lou really that concerned? Could Lieber or Cotts not gone one more inning? Did Kerry really need his second day of rest in three days that he couldn't pitch the 9th? You know you're going to count on Marmol in the 4+ remaining months of the season and he's young and already subject to wear and tear considering the intensity he already pitches with. The bad news, Cub fans, is that this isn't just about Lou, there's a bigger question here.
Let's take a look at the starting rotation. Cubs' starters in the last rotation (so every game up to but not including Zambrano's last outing) have not gone beyond 5.2 innings. Cubs' relievers in those five games have pitched 23 innings-that's more innings than the starters have pitched in that time, Cub fans. Let's face it, that bullpen which has been stellar this season, particularly in May, is getting over-worked. I'm not trying to short-change the Cubs' recent successes, but there's a lot of baseball to play.
To Lou's credit, no one-except Marmol-has really been overused at this point, but when your bullpen pitches 4 innings a day, someone is going to get overused and that's not including any flexibility that might be necessary if someone goes out and has a bad outing.
Perhaps the real culprits here are the starters. The reason the bullpen is being used so much is because these guys struggle to go 7 innings and they throw a ton of pitches doing it. When Zambrano threw 130 pitches against the Dodgers, Lou had to take him out yesterday before he reached 100-that was before the 6th inning. The Cubs' current rotation averages just under 6 innings-per-start, with Zambrano at the top with 6.6 IPS. Not only that, but anyone who watches the Cubs knows how many pitches these guys throw per inning and how many full counts they pitch. It's true most of these guys are strikeout pitchers and naturally work long at-bats, but they've really struggled with control lately. The relievers have been there to bail them out, but how long can it last, Chicago?
The temporary solution? Let's get those bats going. The quickest way to take some pressure off your pitching is to start blowing out opponents, something the Cubs haven't done in awhile. One person who has hit a mini slump is Derrek Lee. I don't know if anyone's noticed, but he's missed a lot of RISP opportunities and grounded into one too many double plays. His patience and good eye at the plate really seem to have disappeared his last couple of starts. If he and Soto pick it back up and combine with the recently dangerous trio of Ramirez, Fukudome and Edmonds, it's possible. With the unreliable Jason Marquis on the mound and an equally unreliable and sometimes wild opposing pitcher in Wilfredo Ledezma, it's going to be a bat race if both teams bring the offense.