Cards bullpen has a lot of work to do


Jonny Gomes happily being pummeled at home plate. Jason Motte walking off the mound in a dazed state. The Cards lost and if that wasn’t enough to keep you up all night, the Cubs finally won a game.

Hopefully the nightmares weren’t too bad last night. It is very early in the season, but every game does count. And the Cards bullpen already leaves many questions that must be answered this summer. For everyone’s sake, it would be nice if the answers (or improvement) came sooner rather than later. Before you know it, we’ll be in Anaheim for the 2010 All-Star Game. Then, the pennant races will be heating up along with the summer sun.

Right now, it looks like the bullpen may melt under the pressure throughout the season. While the Cardinals are the class of the NL Central — and possibly just under the Philadelphia Phillies for that title in the entire National League — they are far from perfect.

Beyond Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Beyond Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. And beyond Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan, lies the bullpen.

While the bullpen is often an afterthought when it comes to baseball, it plays a crucial role on every team. Every role matters from the starting pitchers to the everyday players to the unsung heroes of the bench. That’s what makes baseball so great. Every day, there’s a chance for a different person to be the hero. The bullpen rarely gets that chance.

They sit beyond the field of play and have worse seats than many fans when you think about it. Then, around the sixth inning, the phone rings and their day of work begins. There are only two roles the bullpen can have: mop up as the offense tries to fight back or hold things down for another win. If you clean up during a loss, no one cares. If you nail down a win, you simply did your job. There is no glory.

But sometimes, there are headlines.

If you fail to your job, if you blow a golden opportunity for a win, everyone starts to notice. It’s a tough gig.

Right now, just days into the season, the Cardinals bullpen is already feeling the heat. And we still have over a month until it’s officially summer. In over a month, the temperature will read in the 90s and the grind will set in. Games will be intense and come down to the wire. That’s when the bullpen gets the call.

St. Louis is dreading those moments heading into the first weekend of the season.

Ryan Franklin is getting older. He has been mediocre his entire career. From Seattle to Philly to Cincy, he was a struggling starter and a mop up guy, not a closer. Then, he broke free last year for 38 saves and became the unquestioned closer. There is still cause for concern with Franklin. After one or two good years here, he said he felt fatigued and disinterested at times this spring (except when he perked up at the MLB’s gun policy). Not exactly what you want to here from your closer. The closer is supposed to have the eye of the tiger. A killer instinct and 110 percent focus on the mound to mow down three hitters, shake hands, and come out and do it all again tomorrow. I don’t see it with Franklin this year, but he’s the best this team has.

Kyle McClellan should have been competing for the setup role after a nice spring battling for the fifth start. Could he be in for an early season let down after missing out on the job? Perhaps, but I have faith that he’ll find his groove in the ‘pen again and sure things up after giving up runs in both appearances thus far. Jason Motte looks shaky. I’m more concerned that he can only throw a fastball than with the fact that he lost the game yesterday. He needs something else to be effective for an inning or two. Mitchell Boggs is inexperienced and the rest of the cast is far from impressive. Trever Miller and Dennys Reyes are only lefty specalists in this screwed up era of strategy. Miller started the ninth and faced one batter. One. Why couldn’t he face Gomes? He is a pitcher, right? These guys need to be more effective against right-handed hitters if the bullpen is going to improve. You have to be able to get through an inning before sitting down. Instead, the Cards played the percentages and got burnt. This group has a long way to go in 2010.

They get the chance to wake up tonight in Milwaukee. If they do find it this year, this team is going to be a force to be reckoned with in October.

And you can wake up from pleasant dreams of Ryan Franklin’s fist pump and Jason Motte’s beard. It will come eventually, but it won’t happen overnight.

Try to dream about Albert Pujols and Colby Rasmus for now.

Tale of the Tape

The bullpen’s unnerving opening series by the numbers:

"In the three-game set at Great American Ball Park, Jason Motte, Kyle McClellan, Mitchell Boggs and Ryan Franklin worked 5.1 innings, allowed 11 hits, three walks and five earned runs. -Bernie Miklasz, ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH"

Franklin: 9.00 ERA, 2 IP, 4 hits, 2 runs, 1 save

McClellan: 5.40 ERA, 1.2 IP, 2 hits, 2 runs (1 earned), 1 walk, 4 strikeouts

Boggs: 0.00 ERA, 1 IP, 1 hit, 0 runs, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Motte: 0-1 record, 27.00 ERA, 0.2 IP, 3 hits, 2 runs, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Reyes: 0.00 ERA, 0.2 IP, 0 hits, 0 runs, 2 strikeouts

Miller: 0.00 ERA, 0.1 IP

*Blake Hawksworth was not used in Cincinnati partly due to continued soreness in his groin. He should give the ‘pen a lift when he returns at full strength.