Cardinals Extra: Fatigue -- both mental and physical -- could be catching up with bullpen
Now that the Cardinals' starters more or less have righted their ways, it's the bullpen's turn to cause concern.
Well, the two guys at the back, anyway. Both Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica have been making stomachs churn in Cardinal Nation with their recent work.
After giving up a season-high four runs Monday night, Rosenthal could not hold a 5-4 lead in the eighth on Thursday and, though it took 15 innings, the Cardinals ended up 7-6 losers. Rosenthal gave up a one-out double and a two-out triple that tied the game.
Mujica has been even shakier. After blowing two saves through the season's first five months, he blew his second chance of this month on Thursday.
Mujica needed a strikeout of Todd Helton on Wednesday night to escape a bases-loaded situation in a 4-3 victory. Helton struck back on Thursday with a leadoff homer in the ninth that tied the game at 6 and gave Mujica a 7.11 ERA for September. For the month, Mujica has allowed 12 hits and five earned runs in 6 1/3 innings.
Fatigue is the most likely explanation for the downturn of both. Maybe Rosenthal hasn't caught up with the sleep he missed for the birth of his daughter last week. More likely, he's feeling the effects of his first full season in the majors.
Though Mujica has pitched more innings in each of the past four seasons, this is his first season as a closer. Count me among those who believe that pitching in the ninth is harder on the arm and the mind than relieving in the earlier innings.
When talking about the club's surprise performers, do not forget about lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist. He hasn't made the impact of Matt Carpenter or Edward Mujica, but they played in the majors last season. Siegrist spent 2012 making 10 starts in Class A before being promoted to Class AA, where he made eight outings. He arrived in St. Louis after only five appearances in Class AAA.
But who needs the minors when you're left-handed and throw a 97-mph fastball? Not this 41st-round draft pick, apparently.
Siegrist worked another scoreless inning Thursday, lowering his ERA to .049 and his batting average allowed to .119. Of his 40 appearances, 17 times he has not allowed a base runner.
Mujica leads St. Louis relievers with 28 "clean" outings but only five of those have come since the All-Star break.
The more you watch Tony Cruz behind the plate, the more you think he could be a first-string catcher for a lot of teams. Showing quick feet and soft hands, he saved Cardinals' pitchers from two or three wild pitches Thursday. Cruz, 27, also had an RBI double in a 1-for-4 day that brought his average to .205. OK, the average might not be worthy of daily duty, but his defense and game-calling look to be.
He figures to have to wait at least another year to get a chance to start for someone. Cruz will not be eligible for arbitration until after the 2014 season so he'll make a very affordable as well as dependable backup for the Cardinals next year. But when his salary begins to climb, the Cardinals are less likely to keep him. Considering how he has handled his role, they might like to see him get a chance to play regularly.
If you think Adam Wainwright has struggled inordinately in the first inning, you're not mistaken. After Wainwright gave up four hits and two runs in the first Wednesday night, opponents are hitting .331 against the tall right-hander in the opening frame. The rest of the way, he's limited opposing hitters to a .235 average.
While Wainwright has said he needs a while to settle in, first-inning woes are a new development. In his previous five years as a starter, he held opponents to a .248 average in the first inning.
Playing the numbers
Even with their lead over the Pirates down to a game, the Cardinals remain in solid position to win their first division title since 2009. It will take better than a 91-71 record this time, though.
If the 89-64 Cardinals go 5-4 in their remaining games, the Pirates would need to finish 7-2 to win the division out right. A 6-3 finish would force a one-game playoff, which would be in Pittsburgh.
The schedule favors St. Louis. The Cardinals have series left against the Brewers, Nationals and Cubs. The Pirates still have six games against the Reds, including three this weekend in Pittsburgh, and three games at the Cubs.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.