Along with the offense, the bullpen of the St. Louis Cardinals struggled over the first home stand of the season. The relievers allowed more earned runs than the starters did in the first six games.
On Opening Night, St. Louis Cardinals closer Seung-Hwan Oh entered the ninth inning with a 3-0 lead, having already recorded the final two outs of the eighth inning. By the time he got his fifth out of the night, the game was tied 3-3 and headed to the bottom of the ninth.
Against the Chicago Cubs last Thursday, Brett Cecil entered in the seventh inning with a 4-2 lead. When he exited, he hadn’t recorded an out and the Cubs were ahead 5-4.
Both Oh and Cecil allowed a three-run home run in the first shot they had this season at protecting a lead.
They’re hardly alone among their fellow bullpeners in serving up long balls, however. Five of the Cardinals’ seven relievers have already watched either a Cubs or Reds hitter circle the bases after clearing the boards.
Here are the numbers comparing the St. Louis Cardinals rotation and bullpen after one week of play:
Starters (2.70 ERA, 0.95 WHIP)
36 2/3 innings pitched, 12 runs (11 earned), 29 hits, 6 walks, 35 strikeouts, 1 home run
Relievers (6.75 ERA, 1.62 WHIP)
17 1/3 innings pitched, 13 runs (13 earned), 19 hits, 9 walks, 11 strikeouts, 6 home runs
Before Carlos Martinez‘ start Sunday against the Reds, the five starters had allowed only six earned runs in 31 2/3 innings. That’s a 1.71 ERA through the first cycle in the rotation.
Meanwhile in the bullpen, Matt Bowman stands as the only reliever yet to allow a run, and he and Miguel Socolovich are the only relievers that haven’t allowed a home run through week one.
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Oh allowed home runs in both of his appearances during the home stand after allowing only five all season in 2016. Kevin Siegrist, Jonathan Broxton, and Sam Tuivailala have each allowed home runs through six games.
The pen is 1 for 3 in opportunities to hold a lead of three runs or less. In the sixth inning of the game Cecil blew the lead and took the lost, Matt Bowman recorded two outs to qualify for a hold.
The imminent return of Trevor Rosenthal should help stabilize the relief corps, if he pitches well. Sam Tuivailala is likely the odd man out once Rosenthal is activated. Tuivailala was set to begin the year at triple-A Memphis anyway until Rosenthal landed on the disabled list the day before Opening Night.
The Cardinals relief pitching must improve, especially while the offense is sputtering. Save from Martinez’ second start of the season, the rotation has been nothing short of phenomenal to begin the year.
An oft repeated quip in the baseball world is this: the two most important things in life are good friends and a strong bullpen. The Cardinals seem to have improved upon their clubhouse vibe from last season. But if the bullpen doesn’t turn around, they’ll struggle to rise to the top of the National League.