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The Cubs' Achilles Heel? Lack of a Guy Named Wood

Last year, the Cubs had it all. They could hit, they had depth in starting pitching and they had power arms in the bullpen. On paper, this year's team has all those traits, too, though the lineup is admittedly a touch lighter on power. So, what's making this year's team so much more vulnerable? That's easy: The lack of a clear, shutdown closer.

Sure, the Cubs have a guy who fills that ninth inning role every day, with former Marlins closer Kevin Gregg racking up 21 saves already this season. That being said, Gregg is hardly the shutdown, lock-in-a-win closer that a World Series contender needs at the back of a bullpen.

Who was the man filling that role last year? None other than Cubs legend Kerry Wood, who now sits in the Cleveland bullpen with 19 saves, despite a lower WHIP than Gregg and Chicago's eighth inning setup man, Carlos Marmol.

As it is, the very fact that Marmol remains in a setup role is testament to how hard it is to be a closer. For the past years, Marmol has lurked in the eighth inning, offering the mirage of a dominant closer in wait because of the All-Star reliever's overpowering velocity.

So, why hasn't Marmol become this year's Wood? Eamonn Brennan, a freelancer who often writes for Yahoo! but penned this piece for NBC Chicago, pinpointed the problem right off the bat: Marmol just can't find his slider. Just as a number of closers (Mariano Rivera most notably) have made their living on a single, perfectly dominant pitch, Marmol has the talent to overpower hitters with a combination of speed and swerve, which he gets from his slider.

But with Marmol unable to locate the slider, hitters can wait on his fastball, hoping to get a lazy pitch that grooves over the middle of the plate. Sadly for Marmol and Cubs fans, that's happened far more often than they'd like to admit.

Where does that leave the Cubs and manager Lou Piniella? It leaves them without a good option. Wood may not have been perfect last year, but he provided a vastly superior option to Gregg or Marmol. With the way Cleveland has been shedding salary, one almost wonders whether the Cubs would snap up the $10 million and option left on Wood's deal in Cleveland to see if he could regain his 2008 form in the friendly confines.

By Cameron Smith  |  August 6, 2009; 12:23 PM ET
Categories:  Cubs  | Tags: Carlos Marmol, Cubs, Indians, Kerry Wood, Kevin Gregg, closers  
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