The Cardinals have struck gold at bolstering their middle relief core

It has been under-the-radar trades and signings that have helped turn the Cardinals' bullpen into one of the most reliable in baseball.
Cincinnati Reds  v St. Louis Cardinals
Cincinnati Reds v St. Louis Cardinals / Scott Kane/GettyImages
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When you talk about the Cardinals bullpen, the attention immediately goes to Ryan Helsley, and deservedly so. Helsley is arguably the most effective closer in baseball, as he converted 31 consecutive saves without blowing a save, a franchise record. But what about the arms that come in to hold the lead for Helsley?

You need more than one reliable arm in the bullpen to be a winning team, and the Cardinals have multiple arms that can be trusted in high-leverage situations, and they acquired these arms without giving up anything significant for them.

The Cardinals are currently 12th in the league in team ERA at 3.89, for most of the season the pitching has actually performed better than the offense. But when it comes to the middle relievers specifically, the most dependable arms are not necessarily household names. Three pitchers in particular have been called upon frequently in the first half of the seasons to get outs in high-leverage situations, and for the most part, have been very reliable for manager Oli Marmol. But what makes this more satisfying is how little the Cardinals had to give up to acquire these arms.

The Cardinals drafted Ryan Fernandez in the 2023 Rule 5 Draft

Fernandez was a 23rd-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox back in 2018 out of Hillsborough Community College in Tampa. He pitched in 3 different minor league levels last season ( A, AA, and AAA), and in those three combined leagues he had a 4.14 ERA across 54 plus innings, but the Cardinals saw something intriguing about him.

Despite the high ERA, Fernandez had relatively good control in the minors and was able to induce a lot of swing-and-miss, something the Cardinals desperately needed going into this season. Across 5 minor league seasons, Fernandez had 60 walks and 252 strikeouts over 216 innings, a strikeout-to-walk ratio of over 4:1.

In December, the Cardinals selected Fernandez in the Rule 5 Draft, which occurs every year, and teams that have an open spot on their 40-man roster are allowed to participate, but the player has to stay on the 40-man. Fernandez had a strong spring and started the season as more of a mop up reliever who would come into games not particularly close and try to eat innings.

As the season has progressed Fernandez has been relied on more in higher leverage situations, especially with the bullpen being taxed as of late, Fernandez has come through in a big way. In 31 appearances he has a 2.21 ERA, which is lower than any individual season he had in the minor leagues, and he is still missing bats, as he has a 9.6 K/9 so far.

Fernandez has become an arm that Marmol can trust here in the stretch run, and all the Cardinals had to do was leave a 40-man roster spot for him, the front office deserves their praise for getting Ryan Fernandez.