D-backs penetrate Marmol's armor
Cubs' lights-out reliever proves he's human after all
PHOENIX -- Cubs manager Lou Piniella entered his team's National League Division Series against the Diamondbacks with a devastating tactical weapon in his bullpen. He deployed that weapon, reliever Carlos Marmol, exactly as he wanted on Wednesday night.
It didn't work, and perhaps now the late-inning equation changes in this series.
Marmol, who by one measure was the second-best reliever in the entire National League in 2007, now looks a little less bulletproof if you're sitting in the Arizona dugout. The popular notion of a "six-inning game" may be a little less obvious for the remaining games between these two clubs. Piniella quite surely won't change the way he uses Marmol, but the Diamondbacks will face him with the knowledge that they can hit him.
The Cubs still have a fine bullpen, including right-handed setup men Bobby Howry and Kerry Wood, lefty Scott Eyre, closer Ryan Dempster and Marmol. And it's not as though Marmol is suddenly rendered ineffective by one outing. But if the Snakes have a read on how to attack Marmol, one key trump card for Piniella becomes less valuable.
And it's possible that they have just such a read. Counting Wednesday's playoff game, Arizona players are a combined 10-for-30 against Marmol. Conor Jackson, who hit a sacrifice fly in Game 1, has a 4-for-6 regular-season mark against him. Chris Snyder, who walked, has homered off Marmol before. It's a very small sample size, but you'd rather go into a game 10-for-30 than 2-for-30.
"When they get in that position in the game, with Howry and [Marmol], similar to us with [Tony] Pena and [Brandon] Lyon, they feel pretty good about it," said manager Bob Melvin. "And looking at the numbers, rightly so. So it's nice to be able to get to somebody that they expect to go out and put up zeroes."
Marmol had two problems that compounded one another on Wednesday, and perhaps therein lies a secret for the Diamondbacks. He opened the seventh inning by permitting a home run to Mark Reynolds on a fastball. Having resolved that the fastball might not be his best option, he threw more sliders, and he simply couldn't get the breaking ball over for a strike.
When a two-pitch pitcher loses confidence in one pitch and can't get the other over the plate, that's a bad combination. Marmol will have to throw his slider, in particular, for strikes as the series goes forward.
"Personally, for me, as a right-handed hitter, I'm not even looking fastball," said Jackson. "There's a couple of guys in their bullpen that are 50-50, slider-fastball. In a situation like that, if you're looking heater, you'll be fooled. Especially after Reynolds hit his fastball out, going up there with two guys in scoring position I'm really looking offspeed. Especially with a base open."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.