The St. Louis Cardinals bullpen has dug a hole for the rest of the team. Changes need to be made, but will management step up and make those changes.
May is coming to a close and the same issues that hurt the St. Louis Cardinals from the start of the season are still plaguing them. No matter the effectiveness of the starting pitchers or how hot the bats have been, one thing has been a constant: the bullpen.
Unfortunately for St. Louis Cardinals fans, the bullpen has not been a successful constant. Outside of the impressive stretch the Cardinals had winning eight of nine games, where every facet of the team was playing well, the bullpen has been a thorn in the side of this team, and things do not look to be changing.
While the bullpen cannot be the only one to blame, they shoulder quite a bit of it. The bats have gone cold, defensive miscues have piled up and base running mistakes have been utterly laughable. The one main stay for this team, regardless of other issues, is the bullpen. The success of the bullpen or lack thereof will define this team’s season.
Nothing has been more of a frustration to St. Louis Cardinals fans than seeing whoever is starting that day go out and toss a gem and the bullpen blow his win. This has grown to be an increasingly large worry, considering how impressive the starting pitchers have been and in turn how bad the bullpen has been.
As of the end of May the Cardinals starting pitching ranked 1st in ERA, WHIP, H/9 and HR/9 while ranking 5th in BB/9. The bullpen on the other hand ranked 26th in ERA, 28th in WHIP, 27th in H/9, 18th in HR/9 and 23rd in BB/9.
For a team with playoff aspirations and the payroll to back it up, these numbers are downright unacceptable. If this team is going to succeed, changes will have to be made. For Cardinals management, there are more than just a couple options when it comes to making changes to the bullpen. The question is, will those changes be made and will Matheny use them properly.
One bright spot of the bullpen that seems to be hitting a rough patch right now is Matt Bowman. The once-Rule-5 pick who has found himself a mainstay in the bullpen. Bowman has made his mark as a man Matheny can trust, maybe a bit too much. Being a trustworthy source of innings has led to Bowman seeing more innings than he should
After starting the year on an absolute tear, not allowing a run scored in his first eleven appearances. Bowman has hit a skid, sitting at a 5.32 ERA and a 7.45 ERA in the month of May. Bowman has shown he is one of the most reliable weapons in the bullpen, unfortunately for him that means he will be used that much more.
In a bullpen with few reliable weapons it makes sense that the ones who get the outs will pitch more.
The amount of time Bowman is pitching could be seen as a direct correlation to his struggles. For a reliever to throw in just over half his team’s games in the first month of the season and then continue on a similar pace the next month is a recipe for disaster. Nothing drastic needs to be done with Bowman; the guy just needs less innings. Give him that and you will see a successful pitcher.
A man who was expected to be an integral part of this season’s bullpen, at least the contract he signed said so. Brett Cecil has been nothing short of a disappointment to this point of the season. After signing a four-year, $30.5-million dollar contract in the off-season, there were certain expectations placed upon Cecil’s shoulders. Up to this point, those expectations have not been close to fruition.
Sitting at a 4.50 ERA and a 1.72 WHIP at the end of May is not what John Mozeliak and the Cardinals front office had in mind when they made Cecil a very wealthy man. Lefties have the ability to cause market frenzy; teams will line up in order to sign an effective lefty. For the Cardinals, they saw their guy and paid him enough to get him off the market quickly.
To this point the St. Louis Cardinals have not seen anywhere near the return they planned for when they signed Cecil.
A bright spot for Cardinal fans to look at, as minuscule as it may seem, is that Cecil tends to be a late starter. When looking at the last couple seasons for Cecil the first and second half numbers are essentially, complete opposites.
In 2016, Cecil had a first half ERA of 5.14. He followed that with a 3.18 ERA in the second half. In 2015, Cecil had a 4.66 ERA, he followed that by not allowing a single earned run in the second half.
Cecil is going to have to be an important piece of this bullpen. There is really no other options, after signing him to such a lucrative deal the St. Louis Cardinals really have no way of getting out from under it. Going forward, Cecil needs to be brought in for non-high leverage situations. Allow him to gain the confidence he needs and hope that with the warmer weather, we will also see a hotter Cecil.
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After two straight seasons with an ERA under 3.00, to see Kevin Siegrist with a 5.03 ERA at the end of May is extremely concerning. Siegrist has been one to show flashes of success, but then turn around and struggle to not only get outs, but to even find the strike zone. For a bullpen that has had as many struggles as the St. Louis Cardinals have, success out of Siegrist will be necessary for any turnaround.
Going into the 2017 season, it was assumed that Siegrist could lock down either the 7th or 8th inning. He had shown in the past that he had that ability. Given there were bumps in the road, Siegrist showed to be a reliable arm. A 2.17 ERA in 2015 and a 2.77 ERA in 2016 made Siegrist one of the top two or three arms the St. Louis Cardinals could trot out of the bullpen.
Going forward with Siegrist it is hard to decide what to do. He has not shown any real success and in a division this tight, every game is going to be important. I believe the right course of action for Siegrist going forward would be to use one of his remaining options and send him to AAA.
There are a few options to replace him while he hopefully figures things out in the minors, much like the team is hoping will happen with Randal Grichuk. This kind of move would be tough but for the success of the team going forward this may be a necessary step.
In the first move to improve the bullpen, Mozeliak finally bit the bullet and cut Jonathan Broxton. It is a step in the right direction, but it cannot be considered the only move. Cutting Broxton and bringing up John Gant will hopefully sooth some St. Louis Cardinal fans tensions and improve the play of the team going forward.
Not one thing is going to fix this bullpen; there will need to be multiple moves from Mozeliak and proper handling from Matheny. No matter if the moves are internal as Nathan Grime posted about previously, or external as I posted about previously, moves need to be made. As the bullpen goes so does this team.