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Wednesday 21st Feb 2018

If you’re like me, you’ve watched the early-season craziness with the closer position across Major League Baseball with equal measures of wonder and contempt.

I’d love to say “I told you so,” but no one could have written the exact script that has played out. There is clearly more turmoil ahead.

Not only am I already game-watching at this relatively-early point of the season, but I am following even some of the poorest teams in MLB – simply because of their ninth-inning pitching situation.

For me, the oddness reached a peak on Tuesday afternoon. The last-place Chicago Cubs were trying to hold a tie score in the eighth inning at first-place St. Louis.

As most every fantasy owner knows by now, Carlos Marmol recently lost his job as closer – again. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, yet on draft day Marmol brought a decent price in many leagues because when he is on, he can be very good.

Kerry Wood was also taken in many leagues this spring, especially National League formats. The veteran was just a shell of the 20-year-old who struck out 20 Houston Astros on May 6, 1998, but still held value. The question was whether his iffy shoulder could ever stand the rigors of closing again, as he did most recently in 2009.

Not being able to pitch on consecutive days didn’t help matters nor did Wood’s ineffectiveness. Just 10 days ago, the 14-year veteran acted more like a 14-year-old, firing his glove into the stands after a rough outing.

The answer was that Wood would not be given the opportunity this season, as speculation swirled around two unlikely options – one who had almost no experience above Double-A and had questionable minor league peripherals and the other, a soft-tossing lefty.

I had two different opportunities to purchase the former, Rafael Dolis, in National League Tout Wars this season, but fell short in the most recent bidding two weeks ago. Instead, my consolation prize was lefty James Russell.

It was Russell who was called upon in the eighth on Tuesday after Wood had given up the lead in the seventh. A home run, triple and intentional walk followed. The lead runner was thrown out at the plate next or Russell and his owners would have been in even worse shape than one run allowed on a WHIP of 3.00.

In the top of the ninth, a most unlikely home run was hit by Alfonso Soriano, his first of the season. That brought the Baby Bears level with the Redbirds again. The victim was one of the more reliable closers in the first six weeks, Jason Motte.

With the game again tied, Dolis took the ball in the home ninth. Four agonizing batters later, the game was over. Yadier Molina’s RBI single to right-field was the walkoff winner for St. Louis.

Summarizing the carnage: a blown save, the tying run given up and a loss taken - from the three supposedly most reliable Chicago relievers – all in the same game!

24 hours later at home against Philadelphia, many of the names had changed, but the result was similar.

Russell was called upon to get starter Matt Garza out of a two-out jam in the seventh. Again, the score was tied. This time, Russell collected the inning-ending strikeout – but not until he walked his first batter.

On Wednesday night, the relief collapse was on the collective watch of Shawn Camp, Scott Maine and Michael Bowden. The latter yielded a pinch-hit grand slam to Hector Luna to complete a seven-run finish to what had been a tie game when the pen took over. Shortly after, Maine was returned to Triple-A.

It wasn’t as if the latter three relievers should have been on anyone’s fantasy radar, but with a trio of performances like that, Dolis may not have to pitch very often. This club will have trouble getting to a save situation regardless of the closer’s identity.

By the end of the week, Wood had decided that enough was enough. His 8.31 ERA on a team apparently going nowhere had to contribute. In an unusual move, the right-hander decided to retire effective immediately.

In a nice honor, the Cubs let him pitch to one batter in Friday afternoon’s game, the White Sox’ Dayan Viciedo, who the right-hander fortunately fanned. Manager Dale Sveum wasn’t around to see as he had been ejected two innings earlier. Dolis did not appear as the Cubs lost to the White Sox, 3-2.

Some might say, “What do you expect?” in reference to the decades of futility suffered by the Cubs. I respond with a painfully-honest admission. “But I am chasing saves!”

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com and in-season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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