At 22-12 the St. Louis Cardinals have the best record in baseball, early in this major league season. The Cardinals are doing it again with their high powered offence, strong defence, and excellent starting rotation which leads the majors in ERA. However there is one area of the team that remains a bit of a concern.
The Cardinals bullpen has faced issues this season. Closer Jason Motte experienced some elbow soreness in spring training and was sat down. The soreness never went away and the hard throwing right hander was forced to undergo season ending Tommy John surgery this week. His replacement was supposed to be Mitchell Boggs. However Boggs has struggled mightly, and was eventually sent back to AAA in order to work on his control and his confidence. Lefty specialist Marc Rzepczynski, has also struggled mightly and been sent down to AAA. Luckily, Edward Mujica has emerged as a solid closer for the club, however the depth in the pen has taken a real hit, as it has the worst bullpen ERA in the majors.
Consider that a big strength for the Cardinals was their bullpen last season. After acquiring Mujica from the Marlins, he became their seventh inning specialist in the second half of the year. Boggs handled the 8th inning set-up duties, and Motte was the 9th inning closer. It was a great setup that really allowed the Cardinals to lock down a lot of close games, and gave them a bevy of options late in games and allowed them to be very aggressive in taking out pitchers to bring in pinch hitters. Now 2/3rds of this arrangement is gone. And while we can’t stress enough that Mujica is pitching great in the closer’s role, the depth in the pen that was so useful in getting to the closer has been lost.
While it really hasn’t hurt St. Louis yet, the depth has to be a major concern. However, there may be a very bright light at the end of this tunnel for the Cards bullpen.
In Spring Training it was believed that the career of veteran starter Chris Carpenter was over. The right-hander missed most of the 2012 season after undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder and was expected to miss all of 2013 with shoulder, neck, and arm issues. In fact, many believed that the issues would end Carpenter’s career.
However, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak recently offered redbirds fans everywhere with a little bit of hope telling Joe Strauss that Carpenter has been throwing bullpen sessions and could be activated this summer and added to the bullpen. Carpenter himself said he felt “strong” after throwing a 75 pitch bullpen session yesterday.
Carpenter is currently on the 60 day disabled list, and would only be eligible to be activated at the end of the month. While a return that early would be a surprise, the plan is to have Carpenter in the bullpen sometime before the all-star break. Cardinal nation can only hope that Carpenter’s recovery continues to go well, as he’d provide a real boost to the only area of the club that has been a real concern so far this year. It won’t fix all the problems, but it would be a heck of a start.
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