The Cubs are starting games off with a surprisingly strong rotation that figures to get even better today with Matt Garza's return.
But they are finishing games off better as well since the unexpected return of Kevin Gregg.
After shuffling the closer deck several times among Carlos Marmol, Kyuji Fujikawa and a committee of others, manager Dale Sveum seems to have found his ace.
``He's been perfect [in six save opportunities],'' Sveum said. ``He's a guy who's been in that situation many times in his career and he knows how to get those last three outs.''
Gregg's first time in a Cubs uniform came in 2009, the team acquiring him from the Florida Marlins because he was a proven closer.
Gregg had 23 saves then in what was an all-around disappointing season for the Cubs. But after three seasons in the American League with Toronto (37 saves) and Baltimore (22 saves), Gregg found his way back to Wrigley Field only because the Los Angeles Dodgers, pitching-rich in spring, didn't have room for him despite a near-flawless 0.82 ERA in 11 innings.
``I love the vibe that's here,'' he said of wanting to return. ``I love the attitude, the approach. I wish everybody else had the same opinion.
``I think people on the outside look at us as a rebuilding team because of last year, so a lot of fans and media are looking at what is two or three or four years down the road. Well, as players, we're about now. We want to do it now. We see potential in this clubhouse now.''
Since Gregg signed a minor league contract April 15 and was immediately promoted, he has made 11 appearances without allowing an earned run (10 innings.) He recorded his 150th career save on May 12 against Washington.
The bullpen collectively had only four saves in 13 opportunities before that.
``Closing is a mindset,'' he said. ``You have to want those three outs and handle those three outs without letting the emotions get involved, without letting the game speed up on you. It's something I've done for a while and where I'm comfortable.''
The opportunities are coming because the rest of the pitching is jelling, he said.
``It starts with the starters,'' he said. ``Those are five quality arms--and we have Garza coming back--so its six guys who can pitch well. That allows the bullpen to be put into the right position.''
The irony of Gregg's success--and for that matter, the success of the starters--is that it could make him more valuable to a contending team as the July 31 trade deadline nears.
``I don't really think about it because that's trying to predict the future, and you can't,'' he said. ``This team could easily put together a pretty good win streak and pretty good couple of months and then you're in a whole different position on where you want to be at the end of July.
``That would allow us to make them [Cubs management] make the decision of what they want to do and how they want to go about this rebuilding process.''
Gregg is among the players who see a promising summer now.
``Is this an All-Star studded lineup? No, but does it have potential? It does,'' he said.
``I just wish this team could get more credit. We're not a 100-loss team. We're a team that can compete every day. Even in the losses, we're not being blown out. We have a chance to win every game. I wish people would start to focus on `these guys are competing. We can do this.'
``Fans want to see their team compete and have a chance to win. As long as you have that, you feel you have a chance to put together a solid season.''
Gregg putting the finish on what Cubs start
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