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Epstein confident in Sveum, recognizes 'pen issues

SEATTLE -- The Cubs are approaching the halfway point of the season, and once again find themselves at the bottom of the National League Central standings.

"It's been one of those years where you watch the first seven innings, and there's a lot to be encouraged about," said Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations. "We've had some good individual performances and players taking their game to the next level.

"But if you wanted to sum up the first half, you'd say it went really well for the first seven innings," he said Sunday.

Of the Cubs' 45 losses, they've had the lead in 24 of them. The 24 losses after leading are tied for the most in the Majors with the Astros and the White Sox.

"We've had a really hard time closing out games," Epstein said. "Obviously, the bullpen has been the biggest culprit, but it's not to lay everything at the feet of the bullpen. We also have to get better opening up games. We get leads early and fall into a habit of making quick outs in the middle [of the game]."

The Cubs are 6-27 when they score less than four runs. On the plus side, they've hit more home runs than a year ago at the halfway point. They've also scored more runs and have a better team ERA. It's not quite enough to catch the Pirates, Cardinals or Reds, though.

"We're not where we want to be in the standings, and the main reason is we haven't been able to put games away or win close games, and we're giving too many games away that we should've won," Epstein said.

One of those games was June 16 when Carlos Marmol blew a three-run lead in the ninth against the Mets, who rallied for a 4-3 win. Marmol was designated for assignment on Tuesday, and the Cubs have gotten some interest in the right-hander.

Dale Sveum was criticized for even using Marmol at all, and Epstein said it's unfair to blame the skipper.

"The manager often times takes heat for things that are beyond their control," Epstein said. "We've given him an imperfect roster -- we have a lot of talented players, but it's an imperfect roster, and he's often times put in situations where he has to chose between imperfect solutions.

"He didn't want to necessarily use Marmol in certain situations, but there comes a point where other guys need rest or have already been used, or he's looking a day ahead," Epstein said. "I think it's unfair, with only partial information, to jump to conclusions about Dale's managerial ability based on using Marmol in a certain spot. Dale's steady at the helm of the ship and doing a nice job."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.
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