Please, please, please. Don't let the Cubs become "that" NL Central team. Oh, you know: the one that has no closer, who can attribute half their losses to blown saves. Last year's Brewers. Last year's Cardinals. This year's Cardinals. After watching Kevin Gregg nearly choke away Saturday's game, the fear has burrowed itself.
The Cubs have been notorious most of this decade for not having a closer. Fans have seen the likes of "Flash" Gordon, Rick Aguilera, LaTroy Hawkins, Joe Borowski and more, not appearing to improve at least until Ryan Dempster took the role. When Kerry Wood got the job and Dempster moved to the rotation last season, things looked up. Then they didn't resign Wood and brought in Gregg to compete with Carlos Marmol. If Gregg doesn't wise up, the job could be a juggling act all season long with Marmol sure to be erratic if he gets the call more often.
Gregg shows one strong attribute: poise. Nobody looks less emotional on the mound -- but the results have been erratic. He has, to his credit, converted 6 of 7 save opportunities and his 4 earned runs Saturday were his first since May 1, 5 and 2/3 innings of 2 hit-no-runs baseball in that time. His ERA had in fact crept below 4.00 until shooting back over 6. He has 19 strikeouts in 16.1 innings, and also 19 hits and 10 walks.
Basically, calm down everyone.
Lou Piniella sees nothing of concern despite the questions and is confident keeping Gregg as closer against St. Louis. A 4-run Ninth is a scary thing, but the odds are more likely to point to that outing as an isolated incident. With a chance to create positive distance between the Cubs and Cardinals starting Tuesday, Gregg ought to have some chances to make that clear and then we can all worry about something else in the interim.
For those ready to trot Marmol out in the 9th from now on, hold up. Let's first establish that while Gregg epitomizes poise, Marmol epitomizes "not poise." Looking at the number, Marmol has converted 3 of 5 save opportunities, distinctly not as good as Gregg, though barely. Marmol has walked 17 in 18 innings and until he can get that number down, he's a concern with a short lead. He gives up fewer hits and has only allowed one home run this season, but a walk is the second worst thing a closer can do. We saw the first worst with Kerry Wood when he would beam lead-off hitters only to watch them come around and score. With those walk totals high, it's not like Piniella has a K-Rod waiting in the wings in Marmol that he can keep Gregg's leash short. There's plenty of time for that role to smooth itself out. I'd be more concerned about middle relief, but that's another blog post.