The St. Louis Cardinals might have some help soon coming where they need it the most – in the bullpen.
Relievers Jonathan Broxton (8.22 ERA) and Miguel Socolovich (8.44) have been unreliable, to be diplomatic.
Lefty Brett Cecil has struggled to find his footing after arriving in St. Louis this year as a free agent.
Fellow southpaw Kevin Siegrist has seen his velocity decrease dramatically and it’s made him less effective.
Tyler Lyons managed to make two appearances after starting the season on the disabled list before landing back on the shelf, this time with a different injury.
Closer Seung Hwan Oh seemed out of gas when the season started after skipping most of spring training to participate in the World Baseball Classic. He’s allowed three home runs in the first month of the season after allowing five all of last year and seems to flirt with disaster every time he enters a game.
Fortunately, John Gant seems to be nearing a return to action. Injured with a pulled groin late in spring training, Gant seemed to have earned a spot on the major-league club before getting shut down. Hopefully, the herky-jerky righty will soon be ready to give the St. Louis bullpen a new look.
Meanwhile, Luke Weaver was sensational in his first start back from the disabled list after an injury that cut short his first appearance of the season. He hurled six innings, allowing no runs on three hits and no walks. Weaver struck out five.
Likely the sixth starter on the Cardinals depth chart, Weaver could provide some much-needed inningsout of the bullpen if the current members of the rotation can stay healthy.
Sam Tuivailala recently returned to St. Louis, trying to prove he’s still got a future after failing to make the last step in his development into a reliable major-league pitcher. Hopefully, he’ll bear down and make the most out of what could be his last chance to stick with the Cardinals.
Once you get past that group, the next wave of pitching help for the Cardinals is probably in Class AA Springfield. But that doesn’t mean it’s too far away from the big leagues to contribute.
Jack Flaherty and Sandy Alcantara are the jewels of the Cardinals’ farm system, at least as far as pitchers go. And they could see themselves work through the system this season, potentially contributing from the St. Louis bullpen before the end of the year.
Flaherty is a sparkling 4-0 with 0.56 ERA. He’s allowed 22 hits in 32 1/3 innings and has struck out 28 while walking four.
Alcantara has struggled after his promotion to Class AA. He’s 2-1 with a 5.60 ERA and 36 hits allowed in 27 1/3 innings. But he struck out 119 last year in 90 1/3 innings at high-Class A Palm Beach. Someday soon he will be a handful for big-league hitters.
Reports are that Zach Duke, who had a cup of coffee with the Redbirds last year before tearing an elbow ligament in October, might be able to come back a little early and maybe factor into the St. Louis bullpen down the stretch. But that’s a long shot at this point.
The bullpen isn’t the Cardinals’ only problem. But it’s a significant one with a number of games lost this season in the late innings. In baseball, all you can do is try to shore up as many parts of your game as possible and play to your strengths.
If the Cardinals can rely on their relief corps to protect leads, they can win games in which they manufacture two or three runs instead of counting on scoring five or six to have a chance. They can be more comfortable pinch-hitting for hurlers in close contests to try to squeeze out some extra offense. And they can be more comfortable making contact and moving runners up instead of counting on homers to score.
Boosting the bullpen is the most fixable problem the Cardinals currently have, and while there are other problems to be addressed, every little bit they can do helps.