The St. Louis Cardinals bullpen has been the weak point of the team so far this year. After a blown lead last night in a 6-5 loss to the Giants, there is some reason for concern for a team fighting to contend in the strong NL Central division.
The St. Louis Cardinals Bullpen Has Reasons for Hope and Concern
The Cardinals entered 2017 looking like they would have a strong bullpen this season. Seung-hwan Oh was one of baseball’s best closers after he took over the role for St. Louis last season. After an injury plagued 2016 season, former closer Trevor Rosenthal was set to inherit a set-up role similar to Andrew Miller. Newly acquired lefty-specialist Brett Cecil, who the Cardinals signed to a four-year, $30.5 million deal to in the off-season, also improved the bullpen, and Kevin Siegrist was in line to maintain his spot in the back end of the bullpen.
With a group of pitchers like that ready to go in late-game situations, the Cardinals were confident about the bullpen at the onset of this season. The bullpen was considered a strength of the roster, but things have looked very different since March.
Early Season Struggles
The Cardinals sputtered to a 3-9 start to begin the season, and nothing seemed to be working. The opening stretch has been the low point of the season so far, and this early season skid was not aided by the bullpen. Rosenthal began the season on the disabled list, Oh looked shaky late in games, Cecil struggled to get anybody out, and Siegrist saw a dip in velocity and struggled with command early on. Matt Bowman, in an early season surprise, was the one good option out of the bullpen.
Things finally began to get better. Bowman kept pitching well. Rosenthal came back strong with numbers similar to his 2015 season. Oh closed out games efficiently, picking up five saves over the course of one week in the Cardinals bounce-back effort from a sluggish start. Cecil, although still not living up to expectations, began to pitch more effectively, and Siegrist began fixing his problems.
Reasons for Hope
Despite these improvements, there have only been a couple of truly consistent pitchers in the bullpen. Rosenthal, with the exception of his tough outing in a loss to the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, has been the one reliable option late in games. Rosenthal has been consistently terrific since his return from a back injury. Routinely hitting 100 miles per hour on the radar gun, he has amassed 27 strikeouts in 15.1 innings with only four walks. Rosenthal’s FIP sits at a career-low 1.14, and he has been far more effective than any other St. Louis reliever. Along with Rosenthal, Bowman is the other consistent arm of the group. Although a couple of tough outings raised his numbers since his terrific start to the season, Bowman still remains one of manager Mike Matheny’s most trusted arms in close games. It is with the rest of the bullpen where the problems begin for the Cardinals.
Reasons for Concern
The issues with the bullpen involve Cecil, Siegrist, and Oh. Cecil has been downright awful this season with a 5.65 ERA and a WHIP over two. He has 18 strikeouts, nine walks, and has allowed 20 hits and three home runs over 14.1 innings pitched. It gets worse against left-handed hitters – the main reason for which Cecil was signed. The lefty-specialist has allowed left-handed batters to hit .448 against him this season. Every home run against him has been hit by a lefty, and lefties are slugging an alarming .897 off of him.
Siegrist and Oh have also been inconsistent. Siegrist’s overuse the last couple of years seems to have caught up to him. Although he has looked better in the last week or so, he is still struggling. Oh is still sorting out some command issues, as he does not look quite as sharp as a season ago. He has 10 saves so far, but he has already allowed three home runs and is walking batters at a much higher rate than in 2016. Out of 19 appearances, he has only five games in which he did not allow a runner to reach base, which is not great for a closer. Hopefully Oh will fix his problems, but do not be surprised to see Rosenthal utilized more in the closer role and possibly retake it this season. There is hope as Siegrist has been great over his last 10 appearances or so, and Oh still has the talent that led him to a remarkable rookie year last season. These two finding success can go a long way in helping out St. Louis.
In all, the Cardinals have reason for concern with the bullpen, but there are still signs of hope. For those other than Cecil, things are not as bad as they seem. Overreactions to some bad early season appearances have led to unwarranted criticism. Even though there are some issues still to be sorted, the Cardinals have the weapons to improve.