Cubs done in by their “Nullpen”

Kerry Wood was ineffective out of the bullpen for the Chicago Cubs on opening day. (George LeClaire/AP)

“Nullify” is an interesting word. It means to undo or cancel something that’s already been done. If I write 2011 on a check, I’m rendering it null and void when I rip it up and start over.

So, what the Cubs bullpen did on opening day fits the description of “nullification.” Ryan Dempster struck out 10 batters, Marlon Byrd had a clutch two-out RBI and the Cubs were in the process of making that run stand up through seven innings. Unfortunately, the bullpen had other ideas.

I still don’t understand the trade the Cubs made for Sean Marshall. He was very effective set-up man last season, and even held down the closer’s job for a while when Carlos Marmol was pushed aside. Who knows if he would have been able to get the three outs he needed in the eighth, and turned the game over Marmol with a lead in the ninth? As it was, Kerry Wood gave up a run and the lead by walking in a run in the eighth inning. And just like that, the lead was gone.

Long-time Cubs fans have a deep reverence for Wood. But his 20 strikeout game is long gone, along with the days where my colleagues and I would wager on how many strikeouts he would have each time he took the mound. He’s a setup guy now, and the job is very well defined: get through an inning with as little damage as possible. Put your closer in a position to close, and put your team in a position to win. Just get the job done. And Wood didn’t do that.

Marmol didn’t blow a save, because he wasn’t in a position to get one. That’s on Wood. But he also didn’t get the three outs he needed to get, without first allowing a run to score. That’s on him. And now he’s among the losingest pitchers in the majors this year.

The bullpen effectively nullified the work of Dempster and Byrd. They undid it, and the team’s off on the wrong foot as a result. And this game counts in the standings just as much as any other, regardless of when it gets played.

Combining “bullpen” and “nullify” gives us the word “nullpen,” which is exactly what Wood and Marmol were Thursday. And somewhere in Cincinnati, Marshall is having a good laugh right now.

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