Faltering Bullpen Adds To Endless Frustrations During St. Louis Cardinals’ Three-Game Losing Streak


St. Louis Cardinals’ closer Trevor Rosenthal may very well be solidifying his case for the 2015 All Star Game, boasting 23 saves and a minuscule 0.50 ERA nearly halfway through the season. The rest of the Cardinals’ bullpen, however, is providing quite a transverse outlook just a few days into July.

Since the Cardinals finished June with 51 victories en rout to the best record in Major League Baseball, it has been easy for fans to omit persisting struggles in the back end of games. While the offense has also began July on a stagnant note, the bullpen’s recent implosion is becoming an integral factor during the Cardinals’ three-game losing streak

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St. Louis’s relief pitchers have given up 8 runs, 12 hits and 5 walks in just 12 innings pitched in their current skid, beginning with June 30 home loss against the Chicago White Sox. The Cardinals haven’t been able to identify the exact root of their increasing bullpen woes, but the meltdown could result from overusage of experienced relief pitchers and lack of high-pressure familiarity with second-tier options.

One issue leading up to the bullpen’s meltdown could be the overusage of certain relief pitchers. St. Louis relief pitchers Randy Choate and Seth Maness are among the Top 10 in relief appearances this season, which demonstrates their value to the team at the expense of occasional fatigue.

Maness had pitched in four of the last five games prior to Wednesday’s mop-up assignment, but arguably experienced his least efficient outing of the season in the White Sox series finale when giving up 3 earned runs in an effort to grind out a one-run deficit. Choate has also pitched in four games this homestand, but the 39 year-old has occasionally been stretched in outings with his southpaw counterpart Kevin Siegrist growing into a formidable eighth inning specialist.

While the heavy workload of Maness and Choate reinforces that manager Mike Matheny trusts his experienced pitching options, this management tends to backfire toward a select few relief pitchers, thus forcing them into unfamiliar roles. For instance, first-year Cardinal Miguel Socolovich had not been used in over a week prior to serving the go-ahead home run to Tyler Flowers in Tuesday’s extra-inning loss.

Former starting pitcher Carlos Villanueva is another option who doesn’t follow much of a schedule or routine. Despite carrying a 0.43 ERA through the first two months and showing glimpses of an effective bullpen stopper, Villanueva has struggled to locate pitches recently, surrendering home runs in 3 of his last 5 outings.

His recent control issues are likely a byproduct of pitching strictly in blowout or extra inning contests, but regardless these struggles do not help Villanueva overcome a sporadic track record or ensure that his roster spot with the Cardinals is safe.

Inevitably, the bullpen suffered blows aside from the mound with injuries to veteran pitchers Jordan Walden and Matt Belisle. Depending on their projected timetable returns, bullpen woes could cause the Cardinals to find short-term fixes through more minor league promotions or trades.

Ultimately, the faltering bullpen is representative of the first place Cardinals accepting the reality that nothing is perfect. But the Cardinals’ current bullpen woes must be addressed before it further complicates their run at a third straight NL Central crown.

Next: Cardinals losing streak reaches three