Today we take a look at the bullpen for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. Which teams has the advantage going into the season?
The St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs enter the 2017 season with the strongest bullpens in the Central Division. Both teams have made major moves to bolster the bullpen in different ways. Do any of these moves put the other team on top?
The Chicago Cubs boosted the back end of the bullpen by acquiring closer, Wade Davis, from the Kansas City Royals for outfielder Jorge Soler. A week after acquiring Davis, the Cubs signed Koji Uehara for more depth.
The St. Louis Cardinals, however, made a different move to bolster their bullpen. The Cardinals acquired left-hander Brett Cecil via free agency. The move gives the Cardinals bullpen flexibility when it comes to Cecil and Kevin Siegrist.
If there is any concern right now, it would be if the Cardinals lack the depth in bullpen because of injuries. Remember, the spot in the bullpen could be filled by the loser of the Michael Wacha and Alex Reyes competition for the final spot in the rotation.
Another way to increase depth is to go out an get someone either via trade or free agency. But, who is out there right now? One name that has surfaced recently is Javier Lopez.
Neel Kale, from Cardsblog.com, suggested that Lopez could add some depth to the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen for a relatively low cost. He is another left handed pitcher, but his age and recent performance have put into question.
While it might be cost effective, I don’t think the Cardinals are looking to acquire a thirty-nine year old left-hander at this point. The Cardinals have solid depth in terms of left handers out of the bullpen with Cecil and Siegrist. Once Lyons returns from injury, he will anchor them as well.
By the time Spring Training comes around, I don’t expect either team to make any major moves to bolster the bullpen further. Let’s take a look at the depth chart for each team.
Sep 10, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis (17) delivers a pitch during the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. Kansas City won 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
The Final Boss or Wade Davis?
Whose closer will better the other: the St. Louis Cardinals or the Chicago Cubs? Wade Davis or Seung-hwan Oh?
There is no denying what Davis brings to the Chicago Cubs. They brought in Davis for the same reason they went out and got Chapman last season: to win a championship. Davis has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the last three seasons and is arguably the best closer in the game.
Last season he was able to post a 1.87 ERA (9 runs) in forty-five games with zero HR given up and a WHIP of 1.13. He recorded twenty-seven saves out of thirty chances. His strikeout-per-nine-innings rate hovers right around 9.8 as he amassed forty-seven strikeouts in the same forty-five games. For a guy who was injured in 2016, that’s scary good.
Oh, a welcome surprise for the Cardinals in 2016, will enter the 2017 season as the closer. Although Oh played in more games than Davis, due to his use from reliever to closer, his season was nothing short of impressive.
In seventy-six games, Oh recorded a 1.92 ERA with five HR surrendered and a WHIP of .916. His strikeout-per-nine-innings rate was 11.6 as he struck out 103 batters. Over the last three months of the season as closer, Oh recorded a 2.27 ERA and a WHIP of .958 with nineteen saves out of twenty-two chances.
Both closers are certainly facing some questions coming into next season.
For Davis, the big question is if he is 100% healthy. Last year his arm injury forced him to miss a significant part of the season. I don’t have any reason to believe he is still hurt.
The Cubs probably wouldn’t make the trade if they thought he was either. If he stays healthy, tough sledding ahead for any National League team.
For Oh, there are two questions for me. The first is, do the Cardinals already consider him the full time closer or will Rosenthal get another shot?
I don’t see why the Cardinals wouldn’t have Oh as the closer, but stranger things have happened in Mike Matheny‘s bullpen.
The second question facing Oh is will he repeat his success last season in 2017? Spring Training will give fans a good sense of where he is physically. If Oh can stay healthy, like Davis, he will have a good year at the closer position.
So who does the advantage go to? Right now, my pick is Davis. While his health is a main concern, Davis is just that good. Over the last three seasons he managed to give up only twenty-four earned runs including only three HR. Even though the Cardinals managed to hand him a blown save last year, that doesn’t change my mind.
Both teams have capable middle relievers and some questionable relievers.
As I mentioned before, both teams retooled their bullpen and added depth with the signings of Uehara and Cecil. When Spring Training opens, many of the same familiar faces will man both middle reliever cores for the Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cubs will deploy the names of Rondon, Strop, Edwards Jr., Grimm, Uehara, Duensing, and Smith to manage the middle innings. Of those names Rondon, Strop, and Uehara provide big league experience.
Rondon’s inconsistency was met with a trade for Aroldis Chapman and then a trade for Wade Davis. His 3.53 ERA last season is concerning for a guy tasked to hold the eighth inning. He will be anchored by veterans Strop and Uehara.
Between Strop and Uehara, Uehara had the worse year. Uehara’s ERA (3.45) to Strop’s ERA (2.85) shows how much the former closer has faded. His WHIP, although, was under one last season, it still begs the question if his stuff is still there? If Uehara fails to work out, Edwards Jr. will likely fill that role.
Outside of those three, Edwards Jr. and Grimm will be ask to get innings and provide some support to new guys like Smith and Duensing. Neither Grimm nor Edwards had a great season, but they look to bounce back.
The St. Louis Cardinals middle relievers are built on big league experience and preferred matchups. Behind Oh, the Cardinals will roll with Siegrist, Rosenthal, Broxton, Cecil, Bowman, Lyons, and Duke. While Lyons and Duke are injured, the Cardinals may look to bolster the bullpen just a little bit more.
Siegrist is the likely candidate to man the eighth inning for the Cardinals this season. Given Rosenthal’s shaky 2016, I don’t think the Cardinals will gamble on Rosenthal to man high-leverage situations any time soon.
If Siegrist can find his 2015 form and not be over-used by Matheny, he is a better option than Rondon in the eighth inning.
Outside of Siegrist, the Cardinals will use Rosenthal, Broxton, and Cecil to support the bullpen. There isn’t any need to mention Rosenthal’s shaky season. He lost confidence in his stuff and seemed to collapse too easily. If the Cardinals are to win games this year, his performance is key.
Cecil was brought to St. Louis to be a lefty specialist. If you don’t think this was a move to counter the likes of Anthony Rizzo or Kyle Schwarber or even Joey Votto late in games, think again. Cecil, like Rosenthal, will need to perform at his expected level to give the Cardinals a chance to win.
Jonathan Broxton continues to be the biggest question mark in the Cardinals bullpen. Frankly, I’m not a big fan of his and not too sure why he is on the roster, but he provides the depth right now given the injuries to Lyons and Duke. He has become too predictable at this point and needs to be truly impressive for the Cardinals to feel comfortable using him.
Matt Bowman rounds out the bullpen for the Cardinals. He is similar to the likes of Edwards and the other young guns on the Cubs. He needs more time to develop this Spring Training and hopefully comes out with a chip on his shoulder to be a go-to man.
Given the injuries to Lyons and Duke, save some room for either Alex Reyes or Michael Wacha. Both will be battling for a spot in the rotation this Spring, but there can only be one winner. Whether it is Reyes or Wacha in the bullpen, either one provides a solid choice to not only eat multiple innings for starters, but also provide late inning help as well.
The biggest question facing the Cubs bullpen is consistency. Should the bullpen collapse late in games before reaching Davis, the SP might have to provide more inning than expected over the season. If it gets to that point, expect the Cubs to be active in the trade market for a middle reliever.
The biggest question for the Cardinals is bullpen management. Matheny’s bullpen management is skeptical at best and, frankly, it needs to get better this season. If the manager cannot deploy the proper personnel in the right situations, the Cardinals will lose the easy games. Please do not over-use a single player…pleaseee.
The Cubs and Cardinals offer both capable and questionable middle relievers for the 2017 season. Both teams also have a good array of left and right handers heading into the season. While the Cubs have the best closer between the two teams, I think the Cardinals edge the Cubs out in middle relievers.
Remember that the Cubs starting pitching in 2016 was reminiscent of the Cardinals starting pitching in 2015. Both of the years the middle relievers didn’t have to do too much work. I don’t think the Cubs SP will be that great again and will force Maddon’s hand in middle relievers. I just don’t think they are as up-to-speed as the Cardinals.
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Realistically, both teams have good bullpens. It really is a tie between the two teams. While Davis might prove to better than Oh, the middle relievers will decide more games than not for both teams. Hopefully when it comes to playing each other, though, the St. Louis Cardinals won’t have to see Davis too much.