every reasonable cubs fan had to expect that, sooner or later, carlos marmol was going to hand one back. some things are just too good to last. so last night can't come as much surprise.
but is it cause for concern? perhaps, particularly if you've been one who has clamored for marmol to be installed in the closer's role in the expectation of more of the same.
marmol is clearly going to be tough to hit and a valuable reliever because of it; he's one of the batch of young cub pitchers i've been talking highly of for a couple years now as a source of potential grounded optimism for the future of this club.
but the majority of his success in 2007 has been on the back of issuing just 8 walks in his first 25.1 innings (2.8 bb/9). that's a huge change from the pitcher who in 2007 passed 59 in 77 innings (6.9 bb/9) and even the guy who has issued 4.0 bb/9 in his minor league career. with that context and with an eye toward unsustainable behavior, watching him walk 6 in his last 6.2 innings is enough to inject some significant doubt as to the wisdom of such a move into what has been (always tenuously) ryan dempster's role. after all, a successful 2006 debut for marmol was undone in the second half on this very same problem.
lou piniella has wisely handled marmol pretty carefully, working him into the game in the 6th and 7th much of the time, allowing bob howry to take most of the pressure. marmol's average leverage index (pLI) remains well below those of dempster, howry and leading loogy will ohman. that's frankly a practice i'd continue with until the cubs have had a chance to see marmol struggle in relief and how he handles struggling. if he cannot consistently throw strikes in order to keep men off base in the late innings, he'll be of little more use in closing than dempster has been. howry has been the pitcher in the cub bullpen who has shown the best capacity to limit walks in the late innings, and his elevated whip this season has been due mostly to a .324 babip. he should remain the low-risk option, at least for now, in a bullpen without a true closer.
can marmol throw strikes consistently? i think his history shows that it will likely be a persistent problem. but a reliever's role will minimize the damage that trait can cause, and if it can simply be a manageable flaw (as it was in his recent minor league performances -- and wasn't last year in the majors) marmol will be a valuable piece of the cub bullpen for years to come.
in any case, events further up the tristate knocked the cubs back a game to 4.5 out -- but the more intriguing development was a bizarre injury to milwaukee cornerstone ben sheets. because of the development of superprospect yovani gallardo, this isn't the blow to the brewers it could've been -- with carlos villanueva also available, rotation depth is just not a problem for that club. dave bush has overcome some early babip-related struggles to find his groove, but chris capuano's continuing struggles have put that in the shade. on the whole, milwaukee looks to continue to be (much like the cubs) a fairly average pitching club with (unlike the cubs) a powerful offense. they're still looking to be a tough get.