ST. LOUIS – Earlier in the season the Cardinals bullpen probably didn’t have too many friends around the city of St. Louis. Now they’d be considered the life of the party.
A bullpen that cost the Cardinals plenty of games during a good chunk of the regular season has become one of their biggest strengths so far in the postseason. Cardinals relievers have just a 2.22 ERA in the playoffs, allowing just 11 earned runs in 44 2/3 innings.
And their postseason dominance can be traced back to the July 31 trading deadline, when general manager John Mozeliak pulled off a quiet, under-the-radar move by acquiring right-handed reliever Edward Mujica from the Miami Marlins.
Mujica had an unimpressive 4.38 ERA in 41 games with the Marlins , questioning some to wonder why the Cardinals added him when more popular names such as Jonathan Broxton and Brandon League were also traded.
But the right-hander instantly took over as the Cardinals seventh inning man, helping them bridge the gap from the early innings to their shutdown tandem of Mitchell Boggs and closer Jason Motte.
After struggling to fill the sixth and seventh innings for much of the season, the Cardinals basically turned games into six innings down the stretch. Mujica posted a 1.03 ERA in 29 games with the Cardinals, allowing just three earned runs in 26 1/3 innings.
“He was the best option available for us,” said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. “It was a pretty impressive move by John Mozeliak to make that happen. It didn’t catch a lot of national attention, as it wasn’t a blockbuster move, but for our team, it was a blockbuster move because it helped solidify one of the biggest voids we had.
“He’s just been a great addition to our club. Also having a guy with a little more time under his belt out in that bullpen has certainly helped.”
The Cardinals also took a dip into their future by promoting hard throwing right-hander Trevor Rosenthal straight from Double-A Springfield in mid-July. The 22-year-old made four appearances before being sent to Triple-A – but he wasn’t gone for long.
Rosenthal returned in late August and quickly turned into a deadly weapon out of the Cardinals bullpen. Normally a starter that threw upwards of 98 MPH, Rosenthal saw his fastball velocity jump to 100 and 101 down the stretch and into the playoffs.
And he’s become nearly unhittable in the postseason. The rookie has allowed just one hit in 6 2/3 innings this postseason and has 11 strikeouts to just one walk in six games. He’s allowed just four hits and no runs dating back to his last 13 appearances counting the regular season.
Rosenthal has helped the Cardinals cover for a series of subpar starts from the rotation, locking down the opponents in the fifth and sixth inning before turning it over to the Mujica-Boggs-Motte combo in the final three innings.
“This is awesome, the best experience I’ve had,” Rosenthal said. “Being at this level in the postseason and just doing my part to contribute to the team, it’s a great feeling.”
Asked if he ever finds himself peaking at the radar gun, the youngster added, “A few times. I ‘ve felt pretty good out there. Just like always, trying to get ahead and throw strikes and give our defense a chance to make some plays.”
Boggs allowed his first earned run of the postseason in Game 5 Friday, a solo home run to the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval. Motte has allowed just one earned run this postseason as well, recording a six-out save in Game 3.
Rookie Joe Kelly has been impressive as well, allowing just four hits and no runs in six games in the playoffs. Lefty Marc Rzepczynski, who struggled for much of the regular season, hasn’t allowed an earned run in his four appearances.
In addition to their 2.22 ERA, the Cardinals bullpen is holding opponents to .198 batting average. They have stranded 20 of 22 inherited runners and have 37 strikeouts to just 11 walks.
The Cardinals bullpen has had to cover 44 2/3 innings in just 11 games this postseason. But they haven’t seemed to have much of a problem yet. And the Cardinals can only hope it continues.