Sam Freeman and the solidification of a bullpen.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

When Kevin Siegriest went down 6 weeks ago and Jason Motte struggled in this first few weeks back from Tommy John surgery, the bullpen looked like a weakness that John Mozeliak would have to address come July. Over the last month, however, the bullpen has been very good, and Sam Freeman is a big reason why.

I hope that all of VEB had an fun and safe Independence Day, highlighted by a 3rd Cardinal victory in as many days. I know for sure that at least two baseball executives were working on the holiday, as the Cubs and Athletics pulled off a blockbuster of a trade at about 10:00 p.m. on Friday evening:

That's a pretty damn good haul for the North Siders. They've now got 3 of the top 10 prospects in baseball and are likely to have at least 4-5 others in the top 100 next February, but the position mix is interesting.

Russell, as Law points out, is the best SS prospect in the minors right now (yes, better than Javier Baez) but the Cubs are loaded at that position right now, with both Baez and Arismendy Alcantara at AAA and Starlin Castro in the incumbent in the majors, who is just 24, signed long term, and currently sporting a 121 wRC+ in 2014 after a disastrous season a year ago.

You can move one of those guys to second base, but the presence of uber-stud prospect Kris Bryant at 3B and Anthony Rizzo's All Star stick at 1B means that you can't get all these guys on the infield at the same time. Well, unless you're playing some sort of crazy shift with 5 infielders at all times or something.

Seems to me that Starlin Castro might be on the block for some pitching sooner rather than later. Either way, we're probably less than 2 years away from Theo and Jed releasing all these hounds on the division and the Cubs having one of the better young lineups in baseball.

But lets get back to what this post was originally about, shall we?

*********

The Cardinals have MLB"s 7th best bullpen by FIP over the last 30 days and have done so with a rather pedestrian strikeout rate of 20.3%. That's not what many of us would have predicted when Kevin Siegrist went down in the middle of May, but one reason for it is the emergence of Sam Freeman as a near clone of Siegrist himself: A lefty who is as tough on right handed hitters as left handed ones.

Freeman doesn't strike out as many as Siegrist, nowhere near that amount, but he's been effective by inducing a significant amount of weak contact, having given up only one extra base hit (a double) in his 16.2 innings this season. He's faced 31 right handed batters this season -- they're hitting a combined .138/.194/.172 against him.  Lefties?  Not much better: .200/.324/.207 in 35 PA's.

It's Freeman's ability to take over the 7th inning that has made the Cardinal bullpen so effective as of late, even when subtracting Carlos Martinez from the late innings.

Pat Neshek has been excellent all year, especially so for a guy who basically throws one pitch, and has locked down the 8th inning setup role for the Cardinals that we all thought was going to be El Gallo's for most of 2014. Give Matheny credit where it's due: That was a smart move, as was allowing Freeman to be Neshek's platoon mate over that time.

And as good as the bullpen has been of late, it's about to get even better:

I would guess that we won't see Mr. Siegrist until after the All-Star break (he'll probably have a two or three outing rehab stint as well) but that's good news for the Cardinals as it means three things:

  1. Carlos Martinez can stay in the rotation as there's now plenty of depth in the back of the bullpen that he's no longer needed there. So I guess you could say his plan to be mediocre as the setup guy worked out for him...
  2. When Joe Kelly returns he can bolster the starting rotation, replacing Marco Gonzales, with the top performer between he and Martinez staying in the rotation when Wacha returns and the other moving into the Seth Maness role in the bullpen (or at least that's what should happen).
  3. The Cardinals have less need to acquire a bullpen arm via trade and should instead focus on upgrading elsewhere.
Now, if this team could just find out how to score some more runs we'd be all set to make a run at the division crown that the Brewers can't quite seem to run away and hide with despite all the struggles the rest of the division is having this season.
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