Sometimes a baseball team fields an entire roster of All-Stars and future Hall of Famers (though rarely) and sometimes you can look at a roster and see maybe half of it providing you top-tier production. If you can’t get that other half to contribute at least every once in a while then you’re not going to play very deep into October.
The Cardinals have had ups and downs this year with their bullpen, sometimes the last line of defense in a tight game. On the flip side, at the plate, the St. Louis bench is dreadful. If there is a weak spot on this team that is it, and if they don’t end up in the playoffs Mike Matheny can look back at his reserves and find a big reason why.
Some of the relief pitchers the Cards employ are outstanding in their roles, yet unprecedented success last season hasn’t completely transitioned into this year. Righty Seth Maness, practically a lock for an inning ending double-play when appearing last year, has struggled and found himself in Matheny’s dog house at times in 2014. He’s about the only right-handed option for more than 2 innings though because the Cards have FOUR lefties in their bullpen at the moment, Sam Freeman, Kevin Siegrist, Nick Greenwood, and Randy Choate.
Randy is a specialist, and has been very good this year, once again, in taking care of 1-2 batters in special circumstances. Freeman and Greenwood have split time between MLB and AAA-Memphis, and Siegrist is trying to recover the form he showed last year, where he was dominant, but ha spent time on the DL this season and hasn’t been the same.
Trevor Rosenthal leads the NL in saves with 34, despite showing flashes of Jason Isringhausen’s cardiac arrest inducing inconsistency. He throws a million miles an hour but he’s also thrown a TON of pitches, and his struggles can be potentially linked to overuse by a manager who inexplicably doesn’t seem to understand how to manage his pitchers.
The brilliant, blinding star of the season has been by far All-Star righty Pat Neshek. He’s having an off-the-charts kind of season many guys experienced last year for St. Louis, and his ERA sits well below 1.00. Watch him pitch if for no other reason than to see his unorthodox windup, but the guy throws darts and just gets outs, every time he’s on the mound. Former closer Jason Motte may not be a factor at all as he just went on the DL today.
Cardinals starters have been pitching later into games recently, looking more like the early season staff than they did just following the All-Star break, which has lifted some of the pressure off the bullpen, but the relief corps has blown its share of late leads this year, and that can’t happen if you’re going to win it all. Michael Wacha could be pitching out of the ‘pen once (if) he returns from the DL next month, which would give them the additional right-handed innings eater sometimes necessary to bridge the gap to Rosenthal and Neshek. Carlos Martinez could also be given a relief role before September is over, especially if John Mozeliak decides to shelve Wacha for the season.
St. Louis’s bench is one of the worst I can remember, with Tony Cruz (.231AVG/91ABs) Mark Ellis (.190/158) Daniel Descalso (.177/96) Shane Robinson (.130/46) and usually Peter Bourjos (.216/196.) I know there are fancier stats that go even further to prove my point, WAR for example, but I don’t really understand them so I won’t comment. It’s obvious enough with these numbers that the back-ups are awful. I’ll give Bourjos benefit of doubt because he’s not really had the chance to play as often as he should BUT, if he had hit better from the get-go, it would’ve never been a problem. He’s much better defensively than most any other St. Louis outfielder.
The 2014 Cardinals are 61-52 and only a single game out of first place in their division. The Central is highly competitive. Pittsburgh is only a half-game behind St. Louis before today’s games. Can the Cardinals overcome their opponents and win the Central? Yes, but only if everyone stays healthy. Can they do it without Wacha and Yadier Molina? Yes, but only if everyone else stays healthy, because this is NOT as deep a team as everyone thought in April.