Cheap Seats

Oh, no! The St. Louis Cardinals can't break out of their bullpen rut

It seems it used to be the Major League Baseball players earned their jobs and their playing time through their performance. The better they played, the more they played.

But that doesn’t appear to be what’s happening with St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny’s teams.

Questionable decisions cost the Redbirds two or even three wins in their four-game set with the Milwaukee Brewers. The team started off promisingly with a win in the series opener. But, after that, it repeatedly blew leads and failed with runners in scoring position due, at least in part, to some questionable deployment of the roster by Matheny.

The first thing that comes to mind is the insistence on using a paint-by-numbers philosophy with the bullpen. No matter what happens, Trevor Rosenthal can only pitch in the eighth inning and Seung-Hwan Oh can only pitch in the ninth. That’s just the way it’s gotta be.

The problem with that is Oh has been absolutely awful lately. His slider isn’t fooling hitters and they’re sitting on his mediocre fastball, crushing the pitch when the veteran hurler is forced to serve it up. Over the past week, hitters are batting .467 against Oh. Over the past two weeks, they’re hitting .364. It seems like he almost never has a clean inning. It’s a high wire act with the tying and go-ahead runs on base before someone hits a line drive that one of the fielders is able to snag.

Oh simply doesn’t have the stuff to be a major league closer. He may be a guy who can come in with two on and two out in the seventh inning to try to retire one right-handed hitter. But the longer he goes, the shakier he gets.

It’s odd that the Birds keep running Oh out there because they have another option.

Trevor Rosenthal has been one of the best closers in St. Louis history when he’s been healthy. And, by all accounts he is. But nothing he can do seems to convince the skipper he should get his old job back.

Besides one lousy outing against Milwaukee, Rosenthal has been super this year. While Oh has surrendered 34 hits in 31 innings of work this season, Rosenthal has allowed 17 safeties in 24 2/3 while striking out 41. Over the last month, hitters are batting .188 against Rosey. The one bad outing came after one of Matheny’s biggest head scratchers of the year. Lefty bullpenner Kevin Siegrist delivered maybe the best single inning by a St. Louis pitcher this year, retiring the Brewers on four pitches in the seventh inning. Stay with the hot hand, right? Siegrist couldn’t possibly be out of gas after four pitches. So let him go back out there and pitch the eighth. Siegrist isn’t a lefty specialist. Left-handed batters hit .263 against him and righties hit .268. So it’s not as if he couldn’t face whomever Milwaukee chose to bring to the plate.

Instead, Matheny went to Rosenthal who had a tough time with his control, filling the bases with Brewers before, ultimately, losing the game. But it wasn’t as if Oh rode in to save the day. When he was summoned from the bullpen to bail out Rosey, he was equally terrible.

While Oh seems to constantly flirt with disaster, the bad outing against Milwaukee on June 13 marked the first time since May 2 he had allowed more than one hit in an inning of work. Rosenthal, dealing with a sore arm in April, didn’t really get things going until the calendar turned to May. But since then, he’s held opponents to a .140 batting average against with 26 strikeouts and eight walks (three of them Tuesday) in 17 1/3 innings.

The Cardinals seem reluctant to use Rosenthal on back-to-back days. But why can’t he pitch in the ninth inning when he is available? Why does Oh, a player who is in his late 30s whose contract expires at the end of the year, have a lock on a job he’s not exceptionally good at doing?

This is the same sort of situation the Redbirds had with Jhonny Peralta this year and Allen Craig before him. The front office had to actually get rid of players who could no longer perform because Matheny wouldn’t stop over-using them. That being said, the front office shouldn’t get all the pats on the back and the manager all of the blame. After all, one of the reasons Oh is such a significant factor is because the bullpen doesn’t have enough talented and able-bodied players to do its job at peak efficiency. Free agent acquisition Brett Cecil has been underwhelming, to say the least. Jonathon Broxton had to be released because he threatened to blow up any game he took part in and Tyler Lyons has been having trouble staying off the disabled list so far.

The single biggest need the Cardinals have that could change their fortunes is a drastic improvement of the bullpen. They need at least two pitchers that can be counted on to give them a quality inning on a regular basis. Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright have struggled to pitch deep into games and Lance Lynn is having his typical troubles controlling his pitch count. So the bullpen is going to be heavily relied upon this season. And it just doesn’t seem to have the manpower right now to withstand the stress.