St. Louis Cardinals: If you really want to improve this team…

Jun 20, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Seung-Hwan Oh (26) before a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 20, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Seung-Hwan Oh (26) before a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Tuesday night, in Arizona, the St. Louis Cardinals handed their bullpen a 5-2 lead in the seventh inning. With nine outs to go, the relievers couldn’t hold the lead. The visitors dropped the opener of the series against the Diamondbacks in extra innings, 6-5.

The St. Louis Cardinals‘ struggles this season are well-documented. The defense remains average at best. The base running is atrocious. The starting pitching fell off. The offense is sporadic at best. However, through it all, the bullpen has been the team’s consistent letdown.

I won’t even bother running through all the numbers. You’ve seen Brett Cecil‘s abysmal start to his Cardinals’ career. You’ve seen Trevor Rosenthal when he’s unhittable and when he can’t locate his fastball. Seung-Hwan Oh‘s less-than-dominant sophomore showing in 2017 is a huge problem.

Matt Bowman regressed from a year ago. Kevin Siegrist is battling fatigue and injury. Miguel Socolovich was designated for assignment. Tyler Lyons bails out the starting pitching, but doesn’t receive a larger role in the pen. John Brebbia and Sam Tuivailala pitch well, only to sit near the end of the bench in the bullpen.

Great starting pitching and a capable offense does a team no good if it can’t rely on its set-up men and closer to nail down a victory. This scenario was on full display Tuesday evening in the desert.

Carlos Martinez dazzled for 5 2/3 innings, until he allowed a game-tying double in the sixth. Nevertheless, the offense rallied for three runs in the top of the seventh, handing what should have been a comfortable 5-2 lead to the late inning guys to seal the deal.

Brett Cecil threw a scoreless seventh. His earned run average is now lower than Trevor Rosenthal’s. Rosey allowed the D-Backs to creep back into the game in the eighth. Let that sink in.

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Still, the Cardinals had a 5-4 lead going to the bottom of the ninth with the Final Boss, Seung-Hwan Oh, on the mound. That lead didn’t last long, thanks to David Peralta’s game-tying opposite-field home run. What’s worse is the home run came before Oh recorded an out.

Arizona walked off with a victory the next inning with Matt Bowman on the mound.

Flashback to sometime in late April, when Matt Bowman, Trevor Rosenthal, and Seung-Hwan Oh were the Cardinals’ 7-8-9 guys. Now, the three of them have combined for ten losses in relief. Oh’s 3.75 ERA is the lowest among that trio.

Manager Mike Matheny, often maligned for his bullpen (mis)management, is running out of good options, period. Cecil has been Matheny’s most consistent relief arm lately.

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If the Cardinals are going to climb back into true contention in the National League Central, which doesn’t take much, they need a bullpen fix.

Roles need to be reconsidered, and roster moves need to be made. Rosenthal and Oh’s names surfaced as trade chips with the deadline a month away.

Guys like John Brebbia and Sam Tuivailala have earned a fair shot at heightened responsibilities.

At Triple-A Memphis, John Gant has pitched well in the rotation. He’s been in a Major League bullpen before. Mark Montgomery has been Memphis’ best relief arm, with a 2.45 ERA and 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Like Brebbia, he’s earned consideration for a promotion.

This team isn’t going anywhere, no matter what improvements they make to the offense in July, without a solid bullpen. Even with the abundance of struggles in other areas of the game, the Cardinals would be in first place in the division without Rosenthal and Oh’s blown saves this season.

Sure, you can’t expect them to be perfect, but your eighth and ninth inning guys have to be better than Rosenthal and Oh have been of late.

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With all the talk of a potential trade for a bat coming next month, expect GM John Mozeliak to once again be in the market for a relief pitcher or two, if he believes the Cardinals can contend. If the Cardinals are out of the picture by then, and the bullpen would be partly to blame for that. Then, it won’t be worth sacrificing talent in the system for a need addressed too late.