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Magic Countdown: 4 - Holding Pattern Edition
by Derek Smart
While I have no affinity for losing ballgames, we've reached one of those rare points in a competetive season where the results on a particular night don't cause massive swings in my glee-to-agita ratio. Hopefully, in a couple few days, we'll see the Cubs get enough done to make the remaining September contests irrelevant, at least beyond auditioning relievers for playoff roster spots.
And, really, if there's anything the last two nights have done to increase the weight of the impending doom I already naturally carry in my emotional napsack, it's been what might be casually referred to as "the bridge to the eighth". Namely, that at the momemnt, there doesn't seem to be one.
Two nights ago, after Ryan Dempster pitched well through six but had to use up all his bullets to get there, Bob Howry got an out in seventh before getting yanked after a walk. Some of that was Lou bringing in Neal Cotts to get Ray Durham turned around, but some of that was just not being willing to let Howry completely blow up. As we've all seen, he's been terrible for weeks now, and if you're going to risk bringing him in to begin with, you have to be willing to pull him at the first sign of trouble. This wouldn't have happened if Lou had another middle reliever beyond Marmol whom he trusted, but he doesn't, so he's left to mash up the way he did on Tuesday.
This, for me, points up the importance of getting Chad Gaudin healthy and ready to go before the postseason begins. With Howry's long implosion, and the recent troubles of Touchdown Jesus, there's simply no one else Lou feels comfortable turning to when his starter can't get into the seventh, and understandably so. If Gaudin comes back healthy and ready to pick up where he left off, that changes, and the pen becomes a positive again (yes, even with Wood's recent struggles - I'm honestly not concerned about it).
If Gaudin can't come back, or can't do so effectively, Lou needs to seriously consider using Sean Marshall in that role. I know Lou want's to be able to use him against lefties, but there's no reason to hold him out for that when he's probably you're best bullpen pitcher outside of Marmol/Wood.
But, again, that's why finishing the division race as soon as possible is so important - it's time to figure out what your best playoff roster looks like, and the sooner you guarantee your slot, the sooner you can find your guys.