(Baseball StL) -- About a week ago, the Redbirds bullpen had about as severe leakage as you can have in one part of your team. Oil - or whatever metaphor you choose to use - was spilling out every which way. No one had a set role. No one pitched well in whatever role given to them on that assigned day.
It was utter chaos.
How else can you describe a team that’s got a starting rotation pounding out a MLB-best 2.38 ERA while its bullpen is constructing a 5.37 ERA (second worst in the game)?
But a funny thing happened on the way to the trade market. Help came from the most unexpected of places. Middle relief.
Edward Mujica, a trade deadline acquisition last year from Miami, has proved to be the calming influence in the back end of the bullpen that has allowed others to settle into much smaller - read: less pressurized - roles. The 28-year old in the last four games has saved each and every one of them. He’s given up just two hits and not a single run. His split-finger pitch has fooled even the most elite hitters at the most crucial times.
And, as many would expect, once you settle down in the final inning it creates a situation where everyone else can find their place much easier. Trevor Rosenthal can pitch in high leverage situations without the fear of knowing he’s the last line of defense. Joe Kelly can get high leverage experience as well. Even Mitchell Boggs can be relegated to less pressurized innings to gain back whatever confidence he lost.
It all starts - and ends - with the 9th. Losing Jason Motte has proved to be much more challenging than anyone could have realized. So the next time you think the final three outs are just as easy to get as the 14th, 15th and 16th, remember this time.
Remember how simple the Cards can make leading for eight innings but how difficult they can make finishing off the ninth. Remember how different the at-bats are that the opposition takes when there’s no more outs to spare.
The ninth matters. And, for now anyway, Edward Mujica has seemed to take control of that job. As much as this team has hit and as much as the starters have performed, all it would take is the bullpen matching that production and this Cardinals team would be put over the top.
This may not last. GM John Mozeliak may still have to go out and find an impact arm to put in the bullpen to help out in case the bleeding starts back up again. But, for the moment, the leaking seems to have stopped.