Gant Molina

St. Louis Cardinals' catcher Yadier Molina, left, congratulates relief pitcher John Gant (53) after the Cardinals defeated the New York Mets 9-5 in a baseball game Friday, June 14, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Since this week was the All-Star break across Major League Baseball, we figured it would be the perfect time to assess the Cardinals on their progress thus far this season. As a team, St. Louis comes into the break with a disappointing 44-44 record.

Where does the blame lie? We'll evaluate the players to figure out what went right, what went wrong and what needs to happen going forward for the Cardinals to have some success down the stretch. Since we've covered the infield, outfied and starting rotation, it's time to dive into the bullpen.

ICYMI: Check out the first-half grades for the Cardinals infielders

John Brebbia: B

Brebbia sports a strong strikeout rate (53 Ks in 43.1 innings) and a stout 3.12 ERA that is largely backed up by his peripheral numbers. He has picked up right where he left off last season as a solid member of Mike Shildt’s bullpen. If anything, Brebbia should probably be employed in high-leverage spots more frequently, though recent struggles have perhaps diminished some of the trust he built with the sterling stats he held through the end of May (1.53 ERA).

Genesis Cabrera: D-

Cabrera’s promotion to the big club was short-lived, but it somehow still felt like too long of a stay. He didn’t pan out in two spot starts when the Cardinals sought help in the rotation, and he wasn’t much better out of the bullpen thereafter. Cabrera may still have a bright future, but he wasn’t ready for the MLB-level in his first stint, as evidenced by his 6.17 ERA and .300 opponents’ batting average in 11.2 innings.

Giovanny Gallegos: A+

Even before Gallegos earned the flashy 2.66 ERA he carries into the break, there were signs he was developing into a force to be reckoned with earlier in the year⁠. For instance, he struck out 11 batters across his first 4.2 innings of 2019. The K-rate has remained stout for Gallegos, currently at 58 strikeouts in 40.2 innings, an innings load that made him Mike Shildt’s third-most used reliever in the first half. Gallegos has been particularly effective since late May, with a 0.90 ERA over his last 20 innings. The Luke Voit trade may still leave a bad taste in your mouth, but the Cardinals got something for the slugging first baseman; Gallegos has been a gem in 2019.

John Gant: A+

For John Gant, the season began with Dakota Hudson edging him out for the fifth spot in the Cardinals starting rotation out of spring camp. That which could have caused bitterness instead became a new opportunity for Gant. Rather than toil in the middle/long relief role that he occupied frequently in 2018, Gant’s performance out of the gate this season immediately marked him as a high-leverage reliever. The righty appeared in 16 games in April, throwing 20 innings with a 0.98 ERA and opponents’ OPS of .388. Even as Gant came back down to earth since the season’s first month, his 7-0 record, 2.22 ERA and 0.92 WHIP have him at the forefront of the Cardinals bullpen⁠—even if he was snubbed for the All-Star Game.

Ryan Helsley: B+

Helsley was plagued by injuries throughout last season, but finally got a chance to make his mark this year, brief though it may have been. The Cardinals have given him a couple chances out of the bullpen throughout the year, and the 24-year-old performed capably in 10.1 innings, striking out 12 with a 3.48 ERA and 0.97 WHIP.

ICYMI: Check out the first-half grades for the Cardinals outfielders

Jordan Hicks: B+

There’s no reason to dive too deep into Hicks considering he won’t throw a pitch for the Cardinals for quite some time after Tommy John surgery. But it’s worth noting the young St. Louis closer was 14-for-15 in save opportunities before the injury, and carried a solid 3.14 ERA. His strikeouts rate was solid, too, as he punched out 31 in 28.2 innings. Hicks had everything but his health in the first half, and it’s a shame we won’t be able to see how his sophomore campaign could have finished up.

Dominic Leone: D-

For a guy the Cardinals envisioned as a high-leverage reliever when they traded for him before the 2018 season, Leone has had some pretty pitiful results this year. His ERA is an outrageous 6.83 in 27.2 innings. Leone’s FIP is only 5.05, which isn’t good, but it’s not nearly as bad as his ERA. Still, it’s hard to chalk it all up to bad luck considering he’s allowed two home runs per nine innings and an alarming 4.2 walks per nine. That’s a dastardly combination. Still, Leone’s 33 strikeouts equate to 10.7 Ks per nine, showing he’s still got good stuff when he’s right.

All that spares Leone from an outright failing grade is his improved performance since being recalled from Memphis toward the end of June. In five appearances since, Leone has a 2.84 ERA with a .150 average against in 6.1 innings.  He’ll need to keep that going in order to be a help to the Cardinals going forward.

Carlos Martinez: B-

When he’s been on the field, Martinez has been excellent; he carries a 2.37 ERA in 16 appearances and is likely Mike Shildt’s first choice to close games going forward. But I docked the electric right-hander an entire letter grade on account of the frustrating path his season took getting off the ground in the first place. Whatever you want to call the doublespeak regarding Martinez’s status dating back to February, one word I certainly would not use is ‘clarity.’ I’m not going to rehash each step of the winding path we’ve taken with Martinez over the past four-and-a-half months, because that would be exhausting, but I will give my view on the latest comments from the organization on the talented pitcher. 

In a recent interview on 590 The Fan, Mozeliak stated that the Cardinals were looking to re-insert Martinez into the rotation this season before Jordan Hicks was injured. 

“(Martinez) was someone that--had the injury not happened to Hicks--we were going to try to sneak him back into the rotation at some point,” Mozeliak said.

Talk about an infuriating line to hear from the president of baseball operations. As I outlined for KMOV when the team first announced that Martinez would pitch out of the bullpen upon his return from the injured list, the Cardinals are losing considerable value from Martinez pitching in a relief role rather than a starting role. If it was previously a question of his health and ability to pitch as a starter, Mozeliak’s comments seemed to indicate whatever concern may have existed on that front has been alleviated. The Cardinals were considering moving Martinez back where he belongs, in the rotation, until the team's closer got injured. It’s like a riddle gone wrong, and I can’t seem to solve it.

Mike Mayers: C-

Mayers wasn’t great in his eight April appearances before suffering a lat injury, but he never really had the chance to get into a rhythm. That’s why, despite a 5.40 ERA, we weren’t too harsh on him with his grade. Mayers has been rehabbing in the minors on his way back from the injury over the past few weeks, with a 2.45 ERA in four appearances. Unless the Cardinals want to risk him being snatched up by another team (he’s out of options), Mayers should get a chance to get his season back on track at some point after the All-Star Break.

Andrew Miller: C+

Miller has been better following a disastrous start (5.56 ERA at the end of April, 2.65 ERA since), but it’s fair to say the lanky lefty is not what he once was in the years that he dominated the American League. Miller was brought to St. Louis to handle the dominant left-handed hitters within the NL Central, a task which got off to a rough start against Christian Yelich in the season’s opening series. Miller’s been much better of late, and his strikeout rate (43 Ks in 28.1 innings) gives a glimpse that vintage Miller is still in there somewhere. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Miller’s end-of-season grade get bumped up quite a bit from its current status.

ICYMI: Check out the first-half grades for the Cardinals starting rotation

Alex Reyes: F

Reyes did enough in spring training to land a spot in the Cardinals bullpen to open the season. Everything about Reyes’ year since has been an unmitigated disaster. Reyes got tagged for five runs in three innings across four appearances in the season’s first eight days and was demoted to Memphis to work on his control. On April 25, he added control over his emotions to his control issues, and punched a wall after a bad outing, fracturing his non-pitching hand. That kept him out of game action for a while. Upon his return to Memphis a month later, Reyes had a couple of solid starts before getting shelled some more. His worst outing came June 18, when he allowed 10 hits, three walks, and six runs in five innings, bringing his minor-league ERA to 7.67 for the season. Oh, and in his ensuing start, Reyes had to leave with a right pectoral injury, and hasn’t pitched since. This was supposed to be the year Reyes stormed the comeback trail; it hasn’t happened. I love the guy, but there’s no other way to slice it: 2019 has been a failure for Reyes thus far.

Tyler Webb: C

Webb received a pretty prominent role in the first-half Cardinals bullpen to the dismay of fans that only seem to remember his bad outings. And it makes sense that fans aren’t fond of Webb lately; when he pitches, the Cardinals don’t win. The team is 2-8 in games in which Webb allows a run and an abysmal 8-28 overall in games where he makes an appearance. Clearly, that’s not all his fault. He’s had 26 appearances where he hasn’t allowed the opposition to score, but the Cardinals are still 6-20 in those games. Webb had clearly been designated as a reliever the team hopes can keep things close when the chips are already down.

His 4.45 ERA isn’t dreadful, but we’d prefer to see him working on his game in those lower leverage situations until he finds a groove. It won’t be a concern for the immediate future given that Webb was optioned to Memphis during the All-Star break. Still, Webb was serviceable in a role that carries value, so he grades out as decidedly average for the first half.

Copyright 2019 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All Rights Reserved.

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