The Cardinals' Bullpen Infestation

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 14: Adron Chambers #56 of the St. Louis Cardinals catches a fly ball against the Chicago White Sox at Busch Stadium on June 14, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

When David Freese homered yesterday I went over to his ESPN page, so that I could get an immediately updated look at his OPS. My thought was that it had maybe hopped back over .750 or something, after a slump that's seemed both brutal and long-lasting. Which is to say that I was surprised to learn he was already slugging .500 before it happened. Now he's hitting .276/.325/.514, which is pretty good for a player whose BAbip finally normalized.

The Cardinals were just so hot at the beginning of the year—even though their record never quite reflected it—that there are artifacts like that one all over the roster. Rafael Furcal is hitting .292/.345/.403, which would be a perfectly good end-of-the-season line from him; Jake Westbrook's ERA is 4.27, and not a-million-point-ninety-nine, which you might expect from listening to people who have to watch him pitch.

If you are a true believer in the gambler's-fallacy kind of evening out, uniform and driven by some universal moral imperative to wipe out small sample sizes, this is going to be a tough team to fix. Lots of Cardinals still look like they're overperforming, even as the Cardinals as a whole sit four games under their Pythagorean record.

They've still got some slack to pull tight to make things look more normal. Right now Matt Holliday's basically having the same half-season he did in Oakland, right down to the 120 OPS+. He hit .340 with six home runs in May, but he's hitting just .216 in June. Barring a surprising and abrupt decline phase, that means he'll be a big part of the Cardinals' return to Pythagorean respectability, probably with some clutch hits in 3-2 wins that none of the people who constantly tweet Derrick Goold about how the Cardinals should release him will ever remember.

Adam Wainwright, too—since his shutout he's been Adam Wainwright, basically, in spite of his June 1 loss to the Mets. When either or both of Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn are no longer competing for down-ballot Cy Young votes, Wainwright will be there, methodically erasing his slow start and returning the rotation to equilibrium. (It will also help if one of Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia has a big comeback.)

But what really makes this team look so weird is that all its failings have been locked inside the bullpen, where the numbers are a little less comprehensible and where players can vanish after doing major damage in seven or eight innings. I'm obviously not a fan of bullpen win-loss records, but I think there's something instructive in the fact that the Cardinals' bullpen is 4-11. On an individual level a relief pitcher isn't very important, but if several of them are underperforming at once a team feels at once weaker than it is as a whole and still oddly strong as individuals.

The starters are 29-20, and the team is second in the National League in runs scored, and the bullpen is 4-11—everyone whose numbers we pay attention to is overperforming, and everybody else is underperforming. Right now this team is an ostentatious mansion infested by termites that are individually pretty easy to ignore. By the end of the season some hitters are going to slow down, and Lance Lynn is going to stop competing for the wins title, but I believe in the likes of Fernando Salas and Eduardo Sanchez enough to think the foundation won't be eaten away entirely.

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