Cubs season preview: Bullpen

An effective Carlos Marmol would go a long way in solidifying the Cubs bullpen. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Though a few roles are still being worked out, the bullpen could be a strength for the Chicago Cubs this season.

It wasn't bad last season and the addition of Japanese import Kyuji Fujikawa could solidify it even more -- that is if Carlos Marmol can do his job as a closer. And that's a big "if."

Fujikawa takes over the set-up role which should take some pressure off lefty James Russell and righty Shawn Camp. Both were at the top of the NL in appearances last season and a repeat of that kind of use could be dangerous in terms of their health and effectiveness.

Michael Bowden is capable enough as a middle man, and if the Cubs add Hisanori Takahashi to the mix that gives them two lefties which is never a bad thing unless he simply can't get people out.

The problem -- until Wednesday -- was with Carlos Villanueva in the starting rotation, the Cubs didn't have a long reliever to eat up innings. But they picked up Guillermo Moscoso off waivers from Toronto on Wednesday, and now he's in the mix for Villanueva's old role.

The decision will come down to a second lefty or a long man. Maybe Takahashi can be both -- he did start two games this spring. Considering the sketchy nature of the rotation, the player the Cubs believe can be that long reliever should probably win the job.

But a lot comes down to Marmol. The Cubs are playing with fire opening the season with him as the closer.


1. Marmol: If he pitches the way he did at the end of last season then everything behind him falls into place. If Marmol is off, his trade value decreases and that puts the pressure on Fujikawa as the closer. It also moves everyone up a notch in the bullpen. Marmol has had mixed reviews this spring -- some quick innings and then some wild ones -- which is the best way to describe his Cubs career. If the end of spring is any indication, Marmol is decidedly not ready for the regular season. He gave up four hits, three walks and a hit batter in his last two appearances.

2. Fujikawa: He becomes another key simply because he's an unknown. He didn't necessarily come over from Japan as a top-of-the-line closer, but his experience and savvy should come in handy. He has a little deceptive motion and throws a plus-fastball and splitter. At the very least he should be effective his first couple of times through the league. If he can just be reliable -- even if he's not dominant -- as a set-up man or closer it will really help on those days Marmol isn't feeling it.

3. Starters have to go deep: Like any team, if Cubs' starters go deep into games it will really help the bullpen. The addition of a long reliever now takes some pressure off that notion but with Russell and Camp stretched to the max last year it's imperative for the starters go longer for several reasons. When the Cubs have a lead entering the sixth inning or beyond that's when the strength of the bullpen will materialize. Going to the bullpen in the fifth inning or earlier is only going to be a strain on the relievers more suited to go less than two innings.