Score One for the Enigmatic Cardinal Bullpen

In the bottom of the sixth inning, the St Louis Cardinals scratched for their third and final run of the game.  After a fatiguing 107 pitches. Lance Lynn – the Cardinal starter – would be through for the day.

After receiving their twelfth quality start in the last 19 games, the fate of the game would once again rest in the hands of the enigma that is the Cardinal bullpen.

After a season of bullpen frustration culminated with Trevor Rosenthal failing to cover first, handing the New York Mets a 3-2 win on July 20, followed almost immediately by a two-run eighth-inning meltdown that granted the Chicago Cubs a 3-2 victory on July 22; the bullpen came back three nights later to serve up another one-run lead.  After another strong six innings from Lynn, Lance went to the mound in the seventh with a 2-0 lead over the Colorado Rockies.  But eleven pitches put his lead in jeopardy as he walked DJ LeMahieu and served up a double to Nolan ArenadoKevin Siegrist relieved and limited the damage to a sacrifice fly.  The heartbreak came an inning later when Trevor Story tied the game with a home run – one of only 4 hit off of Matthew Bowman this season.

The inning then threatened to unravel when Bowman hit Ryan Hanigan with his next pitch.  That brought Rosenthal into the contest for the first time since his gaffe against the Mets.

Trevor would finish the night throwing 34 pitches to 8 batters over two innings.  He would bend a little – allowing a sacrifice hit in the eighth, and two singles that threatened disaster in the ninth.  But Trevor would not walk a batter and did not break, walking off the mound at the end of nine innings with a 2-2 tie.  He would get the win in this one, courtesy of Jedd Gyorko’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth – 3-2 Cardinals.

Was it a turning point for Rosenthal and the Cardinal bullpen?  The Colorado series ended with a comfortable 10-5 win, and the subsequent Arizona series began with a 4-0 loss, in which the bullpen threw four scoreless innings.

Now it’s Friday July 28.  After five-and-a-half scoreless innings, Tommy Pham leads off the second reaching on an error.  He promptly steals second, moves to third on a grounder, and scores on a single from Gyorko.  1-0 Cardinals.  But could it last?  Michael Wacha had been dominant through six.  As it would turn out, the offense would score no more.  So the bullpen would have nine outs to get from a very formidable Arizona lineup with no margin for error.

Seung-hwan Oh flirted with disaster in the seventh, allowing a couple of singles, but he worked his way out of trouble.  But Brett Cecil ran into immediate peril in the eighth, allowing a single and a double that put runners on second and third with no one out with the toughest part of the lineup coming up.

Summoned to do a Houdini act, Rosenthal struck out A.J. PollockDavid Peralta rolled a groundball to drawn-in second-baseman Kolten Wong, who teamed with catcher Yadier Molina to make the play of the series when he threw out the runner trying to score from third.  Five pitches later, Paul Goldschmidt struck out, and the lead was preserved.  Trevor made his second consecutive two-inning relief appearance, setting the Diamondbacks down in order (with two more strikeouts) on 9 pitches in the ninth.

The pen did let Saturday’s game get away – turning a 3-1 deficit into a 7-1 loss.

But now, here they were again.  Nine outs to get with no margin of error.  Arizona threatened a little in the seventh, but Tyler Lyons and Bowman combined to keep them off the board.  Oh and Rosenthal were money in the eighth and ninth, retiring all six Diamondback batters – striking out 5 of them – and the Cards were in with a 3-2 win (box score).

And suddenly this grey cloud that has hung over the Cardinal bullpen since opening night is starting to dissipate.  They have now become a main part of the encouraging turnaround of the Cardinal pitching staff.  Going back to a 4-1 win over the Mets on July 8, St Louis has maintained a 2.75 team ERA over the last 19 games.  With 57 games left in the season, those who counted this team out may have spoken too soon.

Lance Lynn

As I type this. Lance Lynn is still a Cardinal – for which fact we should all be grateful.  I mentioned here that I would like to see Lance make his case for being an important part of the Cardinal future.  He has certainly led the way in this little pitching renaissance.  Over his last five games (all quality starts), Lance has given us 31.1 innings, allowing just 4 runs on 21 hits (just one home run) – walking just 9.  He is 3-0 (and could be 4-0) during the streak, with a 1.15 ERA and a .194 batting average against.  Of the 21 hits, only 6 have been for extra-bases, so the slugging percentage against Lynn since July 9 is .269.

If Lance remains a Cardinal, and if he pitches like this down the stretch – I grant you, two big ifs – then the management may have to re-asses the Lance Lynn situation.

During this streak, all four runners who have scored against Lynn have reached base with no one out.  Over his last five games, Lance has been most vulnerable before the first out of an inning is recorded.  Those batters are hitting .244/.289/.415 against Lance.  After he has gotten that first out, the remaining batters in the inning hit .164/.233/.179.  Last night, batters were 2 for 6 against Lynn with no one out, and 2 for 14 thereafter.

Tyler Lyons

Lyons has pitched his way into some high-leveraged situations.  He started the seventh last night, retiring 2 of the 3 he faced.  Tyler is unscored on in his last 8 games (6.1 innings), during which he has given only 2 hits and no walks (although he did hit a couple).  Tyler has struck out 9 batters over those 6.1 innings, and 25 of his last 91 pitches have been taken for strikes.

Trevor Rosenthal

As for Trevor, He has pitched 5 innings facing 17 batters in his last 3 outings.  He has given up exactly two singles to those batters.  While 73% of the pitches he has thrown (48 of 66) have gone for strikes.  Over his last 10 games, Trevor has given us 11.2 innings allowing 1 run on 4 singles, 1 walk, and 19 strikeouts.  The last 41 batters to face Rosenthal are missing with 38% of their swings – and that’s not all fastballs, either.

Jose Martinez

The game’s offensive hero was Jose Martinez – who drove in all three Cardinal runs.  Fourth outfielder is always a tough situation to play under, but lately Jose has been cashing in on his chances.  Including his two-hit, one-home-run night last night, Martinez has hit safely in 6 of last 10 games (only 4 of them starts), hitting .421 (8 for 19), and slugging .737 (with 2 home runs).  He ended July hitting .333 for the month.

NoteBook

In splitting the four-game series with Arizona, the Cardinals scored 5 runs.  That is the fewest runs the team has scored in any series this year of any length.  Earlier this season, St Louis swept a three-game series from Pittsburgh during which they only scored six runs – winning each game by a 2-1 score.

Coming off a series loss to the Cubs, Milwaukee breaks a string of 5 straight Cardinal opponents who had won its previous series.  The Brewers have lost 9 of their last 12 and 11 of 16 since the break.  They look as vulnerable now as they have at any time during the season.

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