the cubs managed not to sweep the saint louis cardinals this weekend, and that is perhaps as it should be. this writer can envision a lot of things in the interest of volatility, but the worst team in the national league sweeping the best twice in a season? there are limits.
of course, this overstates the case -- the cubs are probably not the worst team in the national league (though they've sometimes played like it) nor perhaps are the cardinals the best (though they too have sometimes looked it). but the gap between the two is nonetheless quite wide. the loss of albert pujols should put a crimp in the fifth-best offense in the league, but this writer for one would expect them to keep ticking off wins regularly. this team has taken subpar offensive performances thusfar from jim edmonds, juan encarnacion and yadier molina in stride behind plus output from david eckstein and aaron miles to get this far -- and the starting pitching of mark mulder, jeff suppan and jason marquis is as likely to get better as that of sid ponson is to get worse. with one of the best benches in baseball, it would seem here that there is no collapse in store for this cardinal ballclub -- perhaps only a slightly slower rate of winning for a club that has been running away with the central.
that is somewhat more than has been demonstrated by these cubs, who were not good before derrek lee got hurt and went about proving that and thensome after.
what glimmer of hope might be had for this franchise lies not in this year, of course, but in years to come. and at least sunday's loss contained a fan to feed that spark. carlos marmol, one of the best of the cubs pitching prospects and called up to replace the again-injured scott williamson, made his major league debut out of the bullpen.
the news about williamson is hardly unexpected -- he's had two ligament replacements in his pitching elbow, which is sore and now receiving an precautionary examination from his surgeon -- but could hardly come at a worse time. williamson was expected to be one of the easier commodities to ship from the cubs as the july 31 trading deadline approached. bullpen help is frequently the object of contending teams' desires, and though williamson has not been particularly effective this year he is nonetheless a possible trade object. one must think that his value is significantly diminished by this unhappy circumstance.
but marmol nonetheless took the opportunity to showcase a mid-90s fastball and a big breaking ball for two innings, allowing a hit and three strikeouts. his location, as with many inexperienced pitchers in the lower minors, is not great -- sean marshall is the most easily seen example of how young pitchers missing spots too often are punished at the highest level -- but the raw capacity is certainly undeniable. control has been a problem for marmol -- even as he has dominated the lower levels, including west tenn this year, marmol has managed only a 1.31 career whip despite being one of the harder-to-hit throwers in the cub system.
as with marshall, this writer would rather have seen the cubs allow marmol establish himself at iowa. despite his performance in the southern league, no one should confuse marmol with a finished product. he is going to give up plenty of runs at this level right now, and only hopefully not be crucified by major league hitting. it can only be hoped that, with work and patience, he develops the control that has eluded him in his career thusfar -- lacking it, marmol may very well never be the front-of-the-rotation starter that his tools might imply. but the cubs at least have minimized the pressure on him by allowing him to work from the bullpen and in a year that is already over.