Can the Cardinals Bullpen Hold Up?


With the St. Louis Cardinals continuing their winning ways these past few series, they now stand to move ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers if both continue to trend as they have recently. The Cardinals are 10-4 over their past 14 games, while the Brewers have been 6-8 over that same stretch. According to most baseball analysts, it is expected that the Cardinals will pass the Brewers and eventually go on to win the division, but right now the Brewers are on top the division by just 1.5 games. They got there by having aggressive bats and solid pitching out of the bullpen, two things the Cardinals have lacked at times this season.

Going into tonight’s game the Cardinals bullpen had posted a 3.95 ERA with a 4-9 record combined. That made them the 19th best in baseball. The “Young Guns” (Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness, and Trevor Rosenthal) coming into this year looked to be the belle of the ball. However, at the moment the gang is looking rather average, combining for a 4.44 ERA over 92.1/3 innings; not terrible, but not great. One issue for the Guns has been simple; they have been overused in some respect, pitching over 63 percent of all relief innings. That’s something which early on in the season may not be bad, but what about in September? If they each peak at well over 100 innings each out of the bullpen, the risk of running out of gas will become a factor.

One surprise this season has been Pat Neshek. A late addition to spring training, he was brought in to compete for the last spot on the roster against some of the younger arms. Manager Mike Matheny even said he looked at him as the right-handed version of Randy Choate. Currently, Neshek has posted a 0.79 ERA over 22.2/3 innings pitched and is the best pitcher out of the staff along with Randy Choate. Though Choate did have a rough outing against the Cubs, he has remained solid for the most part.

Despite their current mediocrity, the bullpen has actually seen very little use. The unit has only seen 146 innings so far this season, making them the 7th least-used bullpen in baseball. The Cincinnati Reds at number one in this category at 118 2/3 innings. One of the harmful statistics that has a trickle down effect has been opponents batting .242 off the bullpen so far this season, which is 15th in the majors. Those hits have led to 67 runs, 64 of those being earned. In comparison, the Cardinals starters have a 2.97 ERA over 315 1/3 innings.

One of two great developments is the fact that the Cardinals have Jason Motte returning to action, and he already has had some success in a very small sample size. The second is the upcoming return of Joe Kelly. Kelly is proven both as a starter and in the bullpen. His ability to go multiple innings will benefit the team greatly if they choose to send him to the bullpen to bolster that unit. Overall the early season bullpen problem looks to be solved once Motte and Kelly return to action with no limitations. In addition, once the season progresses and other players are called up and sent down, look for pitchers like David Aardsma and Tim Cooney to get called up and contribute. We will see what happens once the dog days of summer begin and the late season push to October begins.