Carlos Marmol touts Cubs' bullpen

MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs closer Carlos Marmol believes his team's bullpen has the potential to be among the best in baseball.

"We are the best," Marmol said.

Depending on whether Andrew Cashner is a starter or reliever, the Cubs could line up with John Grabow and Sean Marshall setting up from the left side, and Kerry Wood and Cashner from the right side.

"The Padres 'pen was better than any other team's last year," Marshall said. "You had Mike Adams and Luke Gregerson coming out, and bam-bam, the seventh and eighth innings were sealed up. Then they closed it out with Heath Bell to finish the game off."

Marshall and company hope to save the rotation pitchers some wear and tear.

"If we can do something like that, save our starters from throwing 120 pitches, and pitching into the eighth inning, grinding it out every time out, we're going to have a stronger staff all the way around," Marshall said.

The Cubs' bullpen was solid in the last third of the 2010 season as Cashner and lefty James Russell gained confidence.

"That's one of our goals this year, to really close the door, like we did late last season," Marshall said. "We don't want to give the opponents any chance at all to come back."

Marmol saved more than half of the team's games last season while setting a major league record for strikeouts per nine innings for a reliever at 15.99.

"We have Sean and Grabow as well as the young guys," Marmol said. "And now we have Kerry Wood back. We feel very confident."

With two rotation spots open, the relievers will probably be on call early and often in the spring, as the starters round into shape.

Marmol doesn't worry about pressure in his role.

"I don't think about anything much," Marmol said. "I go out there, get my three or four outs, help the team win, go into the clubhouse, put my headphones on and go home."

Wood, who returns to the Cubs after spending two years in the American League, learned a lot from setting up New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera during the last two months of the 2010 season.

"He has not one worry in the world when he goes out there," Wood said. "He just uses one pitch [cut fastball]. It's amazing. The whole bullpen was like that. It was totally stress-free when the bullpen phone rang."

Wood is expected to be a calming influence in the clubhouse and in the bullpen. He attributes his success to originally watching former teammate Bob Howry.

"I watched Bob go about his business," Wood said. "He prepared and acted the same way if he did well or got his butt kicked. He was the same guy every day, good, bad or ugly. I try to make that my approach."

Jeff Samardzija and Russell may have a leg up on the rest of the staff to complete the seven-man relief corps. Russell showed quality at the end of last season and Samardzija is out of options.

Cashner and Russell will get stretched out with a chance to make the starting rotation.

Can the Cubs really have a better bullpen than the 2010 Padres?

"That's a heck of a goal," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "I haven't stopped to think about that. I haven't stopped to think if we'll be that good. If it is, we're really going to have a good year."

Bruce Levine covers baseball for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.