It wasn’t a World Series title, but almost the next best thing for Cubs fans about 5 days ago: Carlos Marmol was removed from the position of closer. It only took two blown saves in just four opportunities, Marmol showing the body language of a wounded puppy and an ERA of 329 for skip Dale Sveum to make the announcement. For now, it appears that lefty James Russell and righty Rafael Dolis will split the closing duties, most likely until one of them shows that they can handle the job on a regular basis.
Besides that bit of “great” news, the Cubs have been…good, over their last 11 games, going 6-5, against the Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, LA Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, four teams expected to seriously contend in their respective divisions. The Cubs took 2 of 3 from both the Dodgers and Braves at home and actually looked like a fully-functioning MLB team in the process. Granted, the Cubs are still on pace to finish with a record of 68-94, but winning series against good teams, no matter the time of year, is always a good thing.
The guy I’ve previously referred to as “Dumpster” has been absolutely outstanding through his first five starts. Despite his Harry Caray impersonation, I’ve never been a fan of Dempster’s, primarily because I never thought he was that great of a pitcher. Yes, I’m aware of his 2008 line, and I still felt that way. After his performance last April (6 starts, 1-3, 9.58 ERA, .318 BAA), I would have been fine with the Cubs trading him for a few tubs of baseball gum.
However, Dempster was great this April (3 starts, 0-1, 1.33 ERA, .157 BAA) and has been one of baseball’s best pitchers to date. Still, he’s winless in 5 starts, despite posting an ERA of 1.02 and holding hitters to a .164 average. Two factors contributing to the “unluck” of Dempster have been the woeful offense and relievers, namely Kerry Wood and Marmol. By far, Dempster has the worst run support average in the majors, 2.04, and Wood and Marmol have been epically shittastic. How shittastic, you probably didn’t ask? Without their failures, the bullpen has an ERA of 3.14, with respectable performances by everyone from Russell to Shawn Camp. With the dubious duo, the bullpen ERA jumps to 3.94. Marmol and Wood have a combined ERA of 7.8 in just 15 innings pitched. Marmol has no confidence. Wood is throwing his equipment into the stands mid-temper tantrum. What’s next? Chris Volstad finishes May with a sub-6 ERA?
In addition, first baseman Bryan LaHair has been sticking. Officially. He’s finally qualified to be among the league leaders in offensive categories, and so far is having a good time at the expense of opposing MLB pitchers. He’s second in the National League in batting average (.384), first in on-base percentage (.476), second in slugging percentage (.767), and second in on-base plus slugging percentage (1.243). I’m 99.9% sure he won’t maintain these gaudy offensive numbers for the rest of the season, but I do think he’ll remain a good bat in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup. FanGraphs thinks so, too.
Tonight, the Cubs face the Milwaukee Brewers (13-18) in Milwaukee. Matt Garza (5 GS, 2-1, 2.67 ERA, .89 WHIP) returns to the hill after being skipped over because of sickness. Doing the pitching for the Brew Crew will be lefty Randy Wolf (6 GS, 2-3, 6.68 ERA, 1.82 WHIP), who’s given up 18 hits and 7 earned runs over his last 2 starts, lasting a combined 11 innings.