Cards’ Bullpen Is Improving With Fresh Arms, Revised Roles and Smart Managing

The Cardinals’ bullpen was a mess.

Tired, beaten down, ineffective and thinned by injuries.

The turmoil and unrest were extreme.

Closer Trevor Rosenthal was lost for the season after tearing an elbow ligament Aug. 16.

After gradually losing steam, a worn Kevin Siegrist was designated for assignment.

Lefty Zach Duke was utilized too much and overexposed.

Poor Matthew Bowman looked fatigued and ready to crack.

Last year’s closer, Seung Hwan Oh, was mugged by LH batters who cranked out a 1.025 OPS against him this season.

Consistency continued to elude expensive free-agent signee Brett Cecil.

Assorted arms were summoned from Cards’ Triple A Memphis affiliate, but Josh Lucas and Mike Mayers couldn’t salve the lacerations.

Between Aug. 10 and Aug. 24, the Cardinals’  relievers were set afire by opposing hitters that hung a gruesome 7.11 ERA and whopping .876 OPS on the bullpen gate. There was no relief in sight — pun intended.

But the smoke has cleared. The relievers are dousing flames instead of standing accused of arson. We can are seeing a cooling-down phase.

The Cardinals bullpen has a nice-looking 2.10 ERA, a substantially improved strikeout-walk ratio (4.00) and a .208 batting average and .627 OPS allowed in the team’s 12 games since Aug. 25.

Basically it comes down to this, and I’ll break it down into three quick parts:

1 — Ineffective or exhausted relievers were cleared out or given reduced roles.

2 — John Mozeliak and/or Michael Girsch made phone calls to Memphis secured the necessary help to stabilized the weakened bullpen.

3 — Manager Mike Matheny has done a good job of slotting his relievers into more suitable roles. He’s done excellent work in moving some relievers away from the flames, and turning to other relievers to handle emergencies.

The turnaround began Aug. 25 with the promotion of lefty rookie reliever Ryan Sherriff. He’s been outstanding.

That sensible promotion was followed by Sept. 1 callups of RH John Gant and rookie Sandy Alcantara. The two hard throwers (especially Alcantara) haven’t worked much to this point, but will likely be needed to contribute at times from here on out. They give Matheny additional options, joining RH Sam Tuivailala on the auxiliary relief squad.

The overworked Matthew Bowman was able to wrap ice packs on his right elbow and shoulder and gulp down some oxygen.

Oh has been given shelter when LH batters walk to the plate.

Duke, who should be a lefty specialist, has been repurposed to do just that.

Matheny put lefty veteran reliever Tyler Lyons deeper into high-leverage roles, and increased his trust level in RH John Brebbia.

All of this has combined to give the Cards’ bullpen a much needed reset.

To understand how the bullpen responsibilities have shifted, just take a look at these informative counts. Take a look at how some of the busiest relievers are now among the lightly used. Take a look at how a couple of Memphis graduates have taken on more responsibility late in the season…

Here are the numbers of batters faced by Cards’ relievers over the last 12 games, since Aug. 25 and I’ve excluded Gant and Alcantara because they’ve each made only one appearance  during this isolated stretch of games:

Sherriff,   27

Brebbia,  20

Lyons,  20

Cecil,  16

Tuivailala,  16

Bowman,   10

Duke,  8

Oh,   7

A few things here are shouting:

Think about how much we saw Bowman, Duke and Oh there for a while … all the damn time …. or so it seemed. Take note of how much that’s changed.

Only 10 batters faced over the last 12 games for Bowman? It’s a vacation! …

Oh hasn’t disappeared; he’s just facing mostly RH batters now. Of the seven batters that have stepped in against Oh since Aug. 25, five batted from the right side …

Seven of the eight batters encountered by Duke were LH hitters. That’s how it should work with a specialist …

Sherriff has been a valuable newcomer. He’s allowed one run in 7 IP, with eight strikeouts, and RH batters are only 3-for-15 against him (.200) …

Brebbia has faced 20 batters, and 11 have come in high-leverage or medium-leverage scenarios …

Lyons, for the most part is evolving into the de facto closer — which make sense given his nasty strikeout rate and wickedly good numbers against both right-side and left-side hitters …

And the new acquisition, RH Juan Nicascio, should solidify the pen. Especially if he can continue to tame LH batters — something that was a problem for him in past seasons.

The test for any bullpen is sustainability. After tonight’s finale at San Diego, the Cardinals have 22 games remaining on their reg-season schedule. Will the bullpen hold?

The question is irrelevant.

Point is, changes had to be made … and changes were  made.

Point is,  the work-load assignments had to be redistributed … and that’s happened.

Point is, the reliever roles had to be revised … and were.

Matheny has smartly reorganized the bullpen.  And if Matheny keeps the bullpen in its proper alignment, it will be up to the relievers to get the job done.

Thanks for reading …


More: Miklasz – The Cardinals’ Second-Half Success Isn’t a Fluke