(BaseballStL) -- Is there reason to be concerned for the St. Louis Cardinals after Thursday’s ninth inning meltdown against the Kansas City Royals?
The short answer is yes.
Don’t be worried about the 4-2 loss. It’s only one game out of 162 games to be played. The ninth inning struggle wasn’t the result of poor pitching from one of the hottest closers in the league, Edward Mujica. That’s the good sign.
Unfortunately this isn’t a video game, so Mike Matheny couldn’t throw Mujica out there for a fifth straight game.
There is the problem.
The Cardinals have been winning, but not by much. Of the 20 wins in May, the Cardinals have won five games by more than three runs, but none in their last four wins since Sunday. As a result, the team has been forced to use its best relievers more often than anyone would like.
There are only four relievers out of 10 for St. Louis this season with batting averages against lower than .300. Mujica (.153) and Trevor Rosenthal (.242), who were both unavailable to pitch on Thursday, are two of the four. Randy Choate (.226), a lefty specialist, is another and got two outs in relief of Michael Wacha in the eighth inning on Thursday. The other one, Fernando Salas (.242), is on the 15-day disabled list.
That leaves the once-closer Mitchell Boggs (.339), Joe Kelly (.363), Victor Marte (no appearances prior to Thursday) and rookie Seth Maness (.340). Who would you choose out of that mix?
Maness threw only five pitches in the eighth inning on Thursday. But it was also his fifth appearance in the last seven days. Do you burn the rookie this early in the season? No way.
Kelly is not a closer -- think more of a long reliever. His WHIP is a sky-high 1.93, which proves his inability to be a solid choice for closer. Plus, the Cardinals would have needed him to eat innings if the game was tied and went to extra innings.
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Marte had not appeared in a big league game this season. It should be noted that he was 0-for-2 in save opportunities last season, but 10-for-13 at Triple-A Memphis this season. He would eventually make an appearance in a tied ballgame though -- he didn’t record an out after hitting a batter and allowing a two-run double.
That leaves Public Enemy No.1: Boggs. This was a no-brainer. Although he has struggled this season, Boggs has experience of being a reliable closer. He hadn’t pitched since last Saturday and was well rested since returning from his soul-searching trip to the farm, Triple-A Memphis.
Matheny had faith in him, but it backfired when Jeff Francoeur lined a home run just over the left field wall to tie the game. It didn’t work, so what?
It’s only one game and one loss in May.
The biggest problem for the Cardinals isn’t Boggs’ inability to get outs. He’s worked his way out of the mix to be used if Mujica, Rosenthal, Choate or all three are available to pitch. But they weren’t on Thursday because of the excess work put in recently.
How do the Cardinals fix this problem of overworked quality relievers? Score more runs.
The Cardinals have relied heavily on the starting pitchers, and with many rookies in the mix it may make it harder to do so later in the season.
It isn’t that the offense hasn’t done its job. A team doesn’t win 20 games in a month without some offense, but as stated above, St. Louis has won only five games this month by scoring more than 3 runs than their opponent.
That will make for a busy bullpen, especially if you can only rely on a handful of players.
Was Matheny wrong to with Boggs in the ninth inning? No, but his hand was forced long before Boggs’ third blown save of the season.
Let's just hope that situation doesn't happen again.