The St. Louis Cardinals avoided losing for the sixth time in their last seven games Tuesday night (STL 7, PHI 6), though it did not come easy. Rookie righty Jordan Hicks, who was pitching for the 34th time in the team's 71 games, allowed a game-tying two-run double to Rhys Hoskins in the eighth inning. Matt Carpenter rescued the Cardinals with a go-ahead solo homer in the ninth.
For the Cardinals, the bullpen blowing a lead is nothing new. They have 44 Meltdowns, which are relief appearances that decrease the team's win probability by at least six percent. That is tied for the fourth most in baseball and is the second most in the National League. The top five (or bottom five, I should say):
- Los Angeles Angels: 48 Meltdowns
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 47
- Detroit Tigers: 46
- St. Louis Cardinals: 44
- Seattle Mariners: 44
Bud Norris has been very good since stepping into the closer's role, but Greg Holland has been an unmitigated disaster since signing his $14 million contract at the end of spring training -- to be fair, Holland threw a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts Tuesday night -- and Hicks' workload has to be a concern. Others like Matt Bowman, Tyler Lyons, Luke Gregerson, and Dominic Leone were all largely ineffective before landing on the disabled list.
Overall, the St. Louis bullpen has a 4.37 ERA on the season, ranking 24th among the 30 MLB teams. Furthermore, the bullpen's 22.2 percent strikeout rate is eighth lowest among the 30 clubs. They're not missing bats and it's not easy to strand runners when you allow so many balls in play, especially because the Cardinals are not a great defensive team, particularly on the infield. Their infield defense ranks:
- Defensive Runs Saved: plus-9 (12th in MLB)
- Ultimate Zone Rating: plus-3.3 (11th in MLB)
The Cardinals' pitching staff has the fourth-highest ground ball rate in baseball at 45.1 percent, yet their infield defense is middle of the pack. Truth be told, their infield defense is probably worse than that right now with shortstop Paul DeJong on the disabled list. Carpenter and Jose Martinez are below-average defensively (arguably much worse than below-average) at the infield corners and neither Kolten Wong nor Jedd Gyorko are standout glovemen at second base.
The bullpen is, clearly, a major problem area for the Cardinals, and one president of baseball operations John Mozeliak figures to address prior to the July 31 trade deadline. The infield defense is another problem area, though that one may not be as easy to fix. The team would have to commit to sitting Martinez or Carpenter or Gyorko to really upgrade the defense and I'm not sure how realistic that is.
I suppose the good news is bullpen help should be plentiful at the trade deadline. Even with Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera already traded, there will be rentals (Brad Brach, Zach Britton, maybe Adam Ottavino) on the market and also relievers with multiple years of control (Brad Hand, Raisel Iglesias, Ryan Tepera, maybe Blake Treinen). Undoubtedly others will hit the market before July 31 as well.
Despite losing five times in their last seven games, the Cardinals are only four games back in the NL Central and they're one game back of the second Wild Card spot. There is still a lot -- a lot -- of season to be played, but the Cubs and Brewers are very good, and St. Louis can't afford a prolonged bullpen-aided slump. The Mariners and Nationals already address their bullpen needs with Colome and Herrera, respectively. The sooner St. Louis acts, the better.
"They are the third best team in the division. The Cubs and Brewers have better teams, not just because of the standings,". "They've got to do something between now and July 31st."