The Cardinals could be depriving themselves of one of their biggest strengths

The St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen was exceptional in Spring Training, but the team's decision to get innings out of its starters could become a self-inflicted wound.

St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds
St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds / Aaron Doster/GettyImages
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The St. Louis Cardinals are committed to zigging as other teams zag in 2024, loading up on innings-eating starting pitchers as opposed to using the "five and dive" strategy of the rest of the league, where teams allow their pitchers to go five innings or twice through an opposing lineup before being swapped for a reliever.

The innings eater is nearly extinct in today's game, as only five pitchers threw at least 200 innings in 2023. The Cardinals are hoping to fly in the face of modern pitching research and are depending on their geriatric (by baseball standards) rotation to gobble up innings and keep the bullpen rested. However, this strategy could lead the Cardinals to underutilize a part of their roster that impressed in Spring Training: the bullpen.

Most of the pieces of the Cardinals' projected bullpen stood out in spring: Andrew Kittredge, Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley and Zack Thompson all had ERAs under 3, as did roster-bubble candidates Andre Pallante and Riley O'Brien. Although Spring Training often isn't a determiner of future success, Pallante showed marked improvement after adding the "death ball" to his arsenal, and O'Brien displayed incredible movement on his pitches.

The Cardinals' starting pitching is undoubtedly the weakest spot on the roster, so it makes sense for the team to expose the rotation to opposing offenses as little as possible and shift to a position of strength as soon as they can.

The danger in this is the possibility of overworking the bullpen. This is when the Cardinals could take advantage of their starters' experience and extend them to go beyond five or six innings, but the Cardinals should treat these abilities as a luxury rather than depend on the starters to carry them through games. If the bullpen is rested and the game is close, the Cardinals should generally yank their starter early instead of relying on his veteran moxie.

Although the best teams find ways to deviate from the well-trodden paths, the Cardinals would be wise to imitate their opponents in deemphasizing starting pitching. Not only would this mitigate the team's largest weakness, but it would magnify what has shown itself to be a major strength. That's basic logic in how to win baseball games.

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