Rob Neyer just asked the same question about the Marlins' Heath Bell, who is off to a horrendous start as closer for the Miami Marlins. Bell might be all right, but after a colossal meltdown in the ninth inning in Cincinnati by Carlos Marmol, it might just be time for the Cubs to replace Marmol as closer.
Ryan Dempster had thrown eight outstanding innings against the Reds Thursday afternoon, giving up just three hits and striking out eight and throwing 101 pitches. The Cubs used three solo homers to go into the last of the ninth with a 3-0 lead.
Marmol entered to close, but threw just six strikes out of a total of 18 pitches. He walked the first two hitters he faced, giving him the Cubs' team lead in walks with 12 -- even though he's thrown only about one-quarter as many innings as Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija, with whom he shared the lead before today with 10.
Ian Stewart then booted a potential double-play grounder, after which Marmol gave up a single to Jay Bruce and then walked Ryan Ludwick with the bases loaded, narrowing the deficit to one. Only then did manager Dale Sveum remove him.
Truth be told, Marmol wasn't very good at closing in 2011, either. Though he recorded 34 saves, he had 10 blown saves -- by far the most in the major leagues -- including a pair of down-to-their-final-strike games against the Cardinals, where one more strike would have won the game for the Cubs. Had Marmol converted both of those saves, the Cardinals would have watched the postseason at home last year instead of winning the World Series.
For his part, Marmol says:
#Cubs Marmol: "You lose a game like that, I'm embarrassed right now."
But at some point, embarrassment has to be replaced by production. Sveum, at last, appears to have had enough:
Sveum says ``definitely a thought of [changing closers] now. I can't lie to you.'' Says Dolis, Russell his only options.— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) May 3, 2012
Rafael Dolis, a rookie, got out of Thursday's ninth-inning jam with a double-play ball and strikeout, but then lost the game in the 10th when he gave up a single, threw a sacrifice-bunt attempt away for an error, then allowed a game-winning sac fly to Scott Rolen. Only one of the Reds' four runs in their 4-3 win was earned.
James Russell has been very good since he was moved to the bullpen full-time last summer, but he's the Cubs' only left-handed reliever after Scott Maine was returned to Triple-A Iowa to make room for Kerry Wood, activated from the DL. That would reduce Sveum's double-switch options.
But with 12 blown saves in the last year and a month, it seems clear that the Cubs need to try someone else in the "closer" role, or maybe Sveum could think outside the box and not let the "save" statistic dictate his pitcher usage. "Bullpen by committee" has become a meme that never seems to work, but maybe the manager of a team going nowhere in the standings this year could try something original. Maybe it'd work.
Meanwhile, the Cubs owe Marmol more than $10 million in a contract that runs through the 2013 season, so he's not likely going anywhere, unless they can find a way to stash him on the disabled list. There's clearly something wrong with a pitcher who was nearly unhittable in 2010 (just 40 hits allowed in 77⅔ innings, just one of them a home run).