I know you're all thinking it: Kevin Gregg sucks. What kind of closer gives up three home runs in two innings? What kind of closer blows two saves in a row? Give Carlos Marmol the job. Even resigning Kerry Wood would've been better. Blah blah blah.
What you should be thinking is: What kind of manager trots out his closer in a 2-1 ball game the day after he blows a three-run save opportunity with two outs, throws 38 pitches and gets shellacked by his former team? Or, what kind of general manager putting together a surefire contender goes after a closer who's never had an ERA under 3.41 in a full season of work and a scouting report that shows no over-powering pitches? Oh, and a GM who did it to clear cap space for a high profile free agent that's turned out to be a lame dog.
In other words, unless Kevin Gregg told Lou "put me out there today, don't worry, I'm totally over yesterday" then it's not his fault. It doesn't make the Cubs' bullpen situation any better, but it's not his fault.
Yesterday was further proof that Lou Piniella can't manage the Cubs' bullpen. If I'm Lou, I pitch Sean Marshall or John Grabow in the ninth. Nobody should pitch less than 24 hours after an outing as brutal as Gregg's on Saturday. He came out with just electric location and movement and then completely collapsed. Horrible. Against his old team no less.
Piniella continues to obsess over righty-lefty match-ups and the Cubs continue to pay for it. Now I won't deny the guy feels lost, especially when no one is getting the job done. As I mentioned not long after the All-Star break, when you start to win, the emphasis switches to your bullpen. All of a sudden offense can't be blamed anymore and the bullpen overlooked. You go into games late with leads.
This weekend, with the exception of Grabow and Angel Guzman, the bullpen struggled hard. Marmol's ERA finally paid for him issuing all those walks. Jeff Samardzija continues to give up runs in long relief -- 9 earned runs off 13 hits and only 4 Ks in his last 10 innings. The Cubs have to explore giving Jeff Stevens more time in that role, even if Samardzija has the big contract. Sean Marshall came in in his new role of emergency pressure pitcher and the Marlins blew the game open with a double, the second time he's done that now in the last week. Aaron Heilman gives up a game-tying home run yesterday and continues to be unreliable (while looking like he's going to cry whenever he's on the mound).
What do you do with all that unreliability? First of all, we don't know the extent to which Jeff Stevens or any of the minor leaguers the Cubs call up can pitch because Lou doesn't use them until he has to. That's one way to figure out exactly what you've got. The rest is understanding and calculating your players' inconsistencies.
For example, Carlos Marmol pitched three scoreless innings on the last home stand and did not walk a single batter. This does not mean all of a sudden Carlos has limited his walks. Given his numbers this season, he'll walk a batter per inning (He's got 48 in 51 IP) and sure enough four walks in less than two innings in Florida. So as much as you have to rely on him as your main set-up man, you have to know when to pull him from causing his own headaches.
Heilman, as inconsistent as he is, tends to gravitate around a 4.50 ERA. That means about an earned run for every two innings of work, on average. Sure, it's impossible to guess how that will average out over a season and you can't keep him on the bench out of fear, but you can make better instinctive calls.
Ultimately, the problem is Lou would have to do this for too many struggling arms in that pen. It's pretty hard to find a solution when you have too many pitchers to worry about and few to depend on.
As for Jim Hendry's role in all this? Trading for Heilman was a bust. It did get Ronny Cedeno out of Chicago, but did little else except give us a new Bob Howry with different means of giving us the same inconsistent results. He basically got the downside of all the double-sided players he acquired. If I'm the new owner, I have to get him out. If the Cubs can't win a World Series this year or the next, then Hendry's had his shot. That's Chicago for you and 100 years of losing baseball working against you.
As for the closer problem, I for one vote to fuse Marmol and Gregg together into a pitcher with unhittable stuff and good location. We could call him Carvin Grermol. That's a heck of a closer name. Now we just have to get Bud Selig to allow gene therapy in baseball.