With Opening Day just days away, I take a look at five keys to the 2018 regular season for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Yesterday I kicked off my Opening Day countdown with part one of my “Five keys to the2018 regular season” series. My first point was all about the starting pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals. While some may not be so high on the rotation to start the year, you have to wonder if they will be singing the same tune by the time playoffs arrive.
As we switch gears to today, with just two days remaining till season opener against the Mets, the second key to the 2018 season for me is the bullpen.
A better bullpen now and often
The St. Louis Cardinals’ front office stated at the beginning of the off-season they would address the bullpen. They went out of their way to say their closer would come from outside the organization only to create more questions on who that might be. None of the big names we thought might be in St. Louis came to fruition. Instead, we picked up a former closer, who didn’t pitch in the playoffs last year, the Angles former closer, who imploded in the second half due to injury and performance, and traded for a relatively unknown arm to bring the bullpen back to life.
If you’re questioning the front office’s moves still, I certainly don’t blame you. To make it even more incredulous is the fact the front office and management now all seem to think it is a closer by committee situation. Maybe I’m not understanding the move, but if the off-season was spent to build a better bullpen and have an established closer, then why are we moving to this kind of an approach? I’m sure I’m nitpicking here, but I’m not in favor of that style of bullpen management.
Look, there is no question the bullpen has to be better this season. Over the last two seasons, the St. Louis Cardinals have blown 35 games. Many of those game were one run games, and could have easily swung the Cardinals favor. Could you just imagine if nine of the 17 blown saves from last year were won by the Cardinals? That would have been enough to put them in the playoffs. The same goes for the 2016 season were a single blown save reversal could’ve put the Cards in the playoffs.
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For the St. Louis Cardinals to have a successful season, the closer, whomever it may be, needs to lock it down from the start. The leading candidate, by far, is Dominic Leone.
I’m sure if Luke Gregerson were healthy it would be a different conversation, but Leone has done everything you would want out of your closer. Take last night’s game against the Blue Jays in Montreal as an example of what a good reliever can do when a save is needed.
The fact of the matter is the Cardinals cannot afford to continue to blow 17 or 18 eighteen games a season. But my larger point is the Cardinals need these games closed right away.
The Cardinals will play 45 division games in the first half of the season. There is no room for error in the Central division this year. The top teams in the NL Central are too good for blown saves to matter that much. If the closer can take of those issues, then Cardinals definitely look like a playoff team.
So why didn’t they get a more established closer? Money talks. Don’t believe me? Ask Greg Holland.
The next key for success is the rest of the bullpen being more reliable than last year. What I mean is our bullpen pitchers need to have success more frequently so manager Mike Matheny doesn’t have to rely on the same few arms all the time like Matt Bowman. We wonder at times how can Matheny’s bullpen management be so bad, but we don’t stop to think about the player’s not performing.
Look at the inconsistencies of Brett Cecil or Seung-hwan Oh from last season. Neither pitcher was able to settle into a groove, and if they did they quickly fell apart shortly after. How is Matheny supposed to manage a bullpen if none of his arms are reliable? The middle inning guys need to be able to bridge the gap between the late inning pitchers. Too often last year we say games be thwarted by inadequacy in the middle innings only for a late inning guy to lose the game with inherited runners.
With that being said, this team is different than last year. Some of the inconsistencies are gone. The team has developed a new approach to their bullpen by using the young arms that have risen through the system. Do I thin they are the best bullpen in the National League? Hardly. But if they can find rhythm in the middle innings and provide the bridge between the starters and the closer, this could be a real asset to the team come September and on.
Stay tuned for part three. Until then, let me know why you think the bullpen is key for success this season.