Buying or selling the biggest storylines from the Cardinals' series loss to Dodgers

What takeaways should we have from the Cardinals opening series against the Dodgers?

Mar 31, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Steven Matz (32)
Mar 31, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Steven Matz (32) / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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Buy: The bullpen overhaul is the Cardinals' biggest X-Factor this season

The bullpen had an up-and-down weekend, and it feels pretty clear to me that this group will be the biggest X-Factor for the club this year.

The bullpen had a few different things working against it this weekend (and I'll get into those), but ultimately, it needs to perform better in big spots than it did if it's going to hit its potential.

The bullpen covered 15 innings this series, an average of about 4 innings per game. The Cardinals' plan this offseason was for their rotation to eat innings, and when it wasn't doing that, it ended up creating issues for the bullpen if they were not executing at a high level.

Ryan Helsey looked like the Helsley from April in 2023, which is not ideal. His velocity is down and he was getting battered by the Dodgers' MV3, but Helsley looked like his 2022 self the rest of 2023 when healthy, so I'm not going to overreact to one bad outing from Helsley.

Had the Cardinals been able to shut the door quicker in the third game instead of going to extra innings, their bullpen likely would have been less taxed going into the final game of the series when they only had four arms available. Also, refusing to use Ryan Fernandez in this series was an odd decision, especially when there were two games they were clearly losing where he could have eaten some innings.

The bullpen showed flashes for sure, but the combination of the rotation not giving innings, injuries to different arms, and guys not being available (specifically in the fourth game) were issues.

If the Cardinals can get those innings going into these next few series, I think the bullpen will perform a lot better in the near future.