St. Louis Cardinals: Comparing both bullpens for the NLDS
One of the St. Louis Cardinals’ biggest strengths this year was the bullpen. As the team clashes with the Braves in the NLDS, how does that facet stack up?
The St. Louis Cardinals bullpen was one of the major strengths of the regular season after being a rough spot for a few years.
The reason for this dramatic turnaround is murky but a lot of the credit is due to the emergence of a lot of young players and unproven players locking down their roles. Credit is also due to Manager Mike Shildt for his job employing them.
Cardinal relievers posted a 4.7 WAR, a 3.88 ERA, and a .273 BABIP in 2019. Leading the way for the bullpen is Giovanny Gallegos (1.6 WAR), John Brebbia (1.3 WAR), and Carlos Martinez in the closer’s role (1.2 WAR). John Gant also provided strong innings for the club, but he will not be part of the NLDS roster.
For the bullpen to be at it’s best, the left-handed relievers must step up. Andrew Miller has had a disappointing season in St. Louis with a -0.4 WAR. Tyler Webb has only registered 0.1 WAR this entire season. Rookie Genesis Cabrera has been rumored to be on the NLDS roster as well for his plus-fastball coming from the left side.
On the other side, the Atlanta Braves bullpen this year has been a roller-coaster ride. At the all-star break, the Braves had 16 blown saves.
At the center of the blown saves was former closer Luke Jackson, who was tied for the MLB lead in blown saves. A pitcher with a live arm, Jackson has had previous struggles with command throughout his professional career. He’s worked hard to correct these issues and has reduced his hard-hit contact rate.
From Jake Mailhot of FanGraphs:
"With so much more of the contact against him coming on the ground, one of the unfortunate side effects has been a high BABIP. He’s cut his hard hit rate from 36.5% to just 24.8% this year but balls have continued to find holes in the defense. Poor batted ball luck can explain four of his blown saves."
Before the trade deadline this year, the bullpen had -0.5 WAR and a 4.18 ERA. That’s ….not good. At the deadline, they added Mark Melancon, Chris Martin, and Shane Greene. Even then, the ‘pen still surrendered blown saves and had an ERA over 7 for the first part of the month.
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However, from August 17th to the end of the season, the Braves’ bullpen was able to come together and become one of the best in baseball.
The Atlanta Braves bullpen is coming together at the right time, while the Cardinals recently had some reliever troubles in their last couple series with the Diamondbacks and Cubs. The rest period before Thursday’s game should come in handy for a St. Louis bullpen that was running on fumes toward the end.
Both sides feature good starting pitching, so this divisional series could come down to which reliever or relievers blink first. On the stat sheet, the edge goes to the Cardinals even with the recent blunders. As we all know though, the stat sheet only gets you so far.