St. Louis Cardinals should lean on fresh arms to avoid bullpen melt-down

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 06: The outfield wall is seen during Game Three of the National League Division Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Busch Stadium on October 6, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 06: The outfield wall is seen during Game Three of the National League Division Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Busch Stadium on October 6, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images) /
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The St. Louis Cardinals bullpen still has the best ERA in the NL but the six most frequently used arms may be stretched beyond historic limits. It would be wise to lean on reinforcements for the next three weeks.

My colleague Bill Dawson posted a great piece Sunday on where the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen has been in 2019.

Indeed the bullpen has been one of the two keys to the Cardinals’ 2019 success (the other, defense) but there is always a fear of collapse as the season trudges on.

I would like to focus on where the bullpen is going, heading into the stretch run against the Cubs and the playoffs (which Fangraphs now rates as a 94.5% certainty). Look at this chart:

Team Pitching
NameAgeERAG
IP
Andrew Miller*344.306346.0
John Brebbia293.265866.1
John Gant263.165762.2
Giovanny Gallegos272.275563.1
Tyler Webb*284.025547.0
Carlos Martinez273.153940.0

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

At the rate these pitchers are being used, the Cardinals will have five guys pitching over 60 games this year, for the first time since 2009. The heavy reliance on these pitchers coupled with this high-level of use spurs different concerns for each.

Age: Andrew Miller.

Andrew Miller is likely to surpass seventy games this year. Coming off an unsuccessful 2018, turning in disappointing numbers this year, at age 33, is he really the guy you want taking the ball 70 times in a year and every night in the playoffs?

Over-use: John Brebbia, John Gant

We have seen relievers be overused and then burn-out so many times in the last few years (Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Matt Bowman, Seth Maness) , this should be a warning sign for the future.

Uncharted territory: Giovanny Gallegos, Tyler Webb, Carlos Martinez

Gallegos and Webb have never been close to these game totals in their careers. It could be no problem, or it could be a total stretch to use them 60 times in a year that will blow up in the Cardinals face. Be ready for either.

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With Martinez, still at under 50 games pitched this season, the “uncharted territory” is him as a closer. The games will become higher and higher “psi” of pressure up through and including those seven games in the last two weeks with the Cubs.

Can Martinez prove that he is a true closer, a role some believe in his heart he does not really want? It may be better to work in some balance to Martinez’ use in the last three weeks.

The Cubs have already burned out Craig Kimbrel‘s elbow in just two months, as he has landed on the 10-day injury list. Another Cubs’ reliever, Steve Cishek, whom the Cardinals picked up a few years ago for a  AA prospect, has pitched an incredible 143 games in two years under Joe Maddon.

If the Cardinals can present a healthy, fresh bullpen, it will be “advantage, Cards”. But who can the Cardinals turn to beyond these six?

ST LOUIS, MO – SEPTEMBER 05: Genesis Cabrera #61 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches during the eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Busch Stadium on September 5, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO – SEPTEMBER 05: Genesis Cabrera #61 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches during the eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Busch Stadium on September 5, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images) /

Genesis Cabrera

PROS: Can spell Miller and Webb when a  lefty is needed, has high 90s fastball
CONS: Has been a starter exclusively since 2016. Can he adapt to the fast-paced life of the bullpen? Along with Mayers has a >1.70 WHIP, highest on the team.

Mike Mayers

PROS: Experienced, has been effective in the past

CONS: Was designated for assignment once by Cards, not picked up by another team and was assigned outright to Memphis; 7.56 ERA this year, has given up runs in a majority of his appearances

Junior Fernandez

PROS: Young, consistently effective at three minor league levels this year

CONS:  52 games and 72 innings pitched this year already

Ryan Helsley

PROS: Has been effective in 15 appearances this year, has high 90s mph fastball. Could he close?

CONS: Had been mostly a starter, was shut down in 2018 due to right shoulder tendinitis, ERA has climbed as he has ascended through levels of the farm system

Michael Wacha/Daniel Ponce de Leon

PROS: Big league experience

CONS: Will naturally be looking forward to the next start; Wacha especially has not been successful in relief: 1.026 opponents’ OPS

Dominic Leone

PROS: Big-league success

CONS: total box of chocolates

Next. What fans didn’t see coming in 2019. dark

I am not saying that the sailing won’t be smooth if the Cardinals go ahead and max out their “big-five” set-up men, and make Carlos close every game. But to the extent they can trust their bullpen depth with once-optioned Mayers, not-yet proven Cabrera and Fernandez, the cross-your-fingers impressive Helsley, and even Dominic Leone, they can avoid the bullpen meltdowns of the past.

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