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The Cardinals Bullpen Looks Ready to Dominate in 2021

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St Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers - Game One Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

It has been a tough season for the Cardinals. The team has needed to use 21 pitchers in a 60 game season due to the COVID outbreak and this has led to players such as Nabil Crismatt and Ricardo Sanchez to take the mound for the Cardinals. These are certainly not players that the team would have expected to rely on in a normal season. Additionally, Johan Oviedo has thrown over 24 innings for the team after only reaching Double-A last season. It is clear that the Cardinals have been forced to rely on some unexpected contributors in order to make it through the shortened season. However, it has also become clear that the Cardinals would have a very good bullpen under normal circumstances, and this bodes well for next season.

One of the breakout contributors this season has been Alex Reyes who has tallied a 3.00 ERA and 3.30 FIP while striking out hitters at a 32.1% rate. Even though he was once the Cardinals top prospect, Reyes has dealt with a series of injuries that made it difficult to predict if he would come back as dominant as he was before getting hurt. However, Reyes has clearly shown that he is still a dominant pitcher. He has struggled with walks this year (16.7% BB%), but he can still generate high amount of swings and misses and a high velocity (97.5 mph average fastball velocity). The Cardinals will likely want to be careful with his workload in the last few games of the season as well as the playoffs, and maybe even into next season. However, Reyes has quieted any doubts over his ability with his strong performance this season, and this should make him a high leverage candidate for the bullpen next season.

Additionally, Genesis Cabrera has emerged as an important reliever for the Cardinals this season. His 2.57 ERA and 33.7% strikeout rate are impressive, but his 4.76 FIP and 15.7% walk rate leave a lot to be desired. However, the difference between Cabrera and Reyes, who have similar strikeout and walk rates, is that Cabrera has been giving up home runs at a much faster pace (1.29 HR/9 for Cabrera, 0.50 HR/9 for Reyes). However, in such a short season, this means that Cabrera has only given up two more home runs than Reyes. Therefore, considering the sample size, it is difficult to say that Cabrera is prone to giving up home runs. This could be something that he improves on next season when there will be a full 162 game slate. However, besides the home runs, Cabrera has a similar profile to Reyes in that he will strike out a lot of hitters while occasionally struggling with control. Like Reyes, this could make him a dangerous pitcher out of the bullpen.

Kodi Whitley has also impressed in a small 4 23 innings sample size. However, despite the sample size, he has posted a strong strikeout rate (29.4%) and a strong walk rate (5.9%). Both of these numbers are in line with Whitley’s minor league career and they show a lot of promise for 2021, which is when he will likely get his chance to throw a good amount of MLB innings. If he can continue this success, then he could also find himself with a key bullpen role for the Cardinals next season.

Finally, Andrew Miller has had a strong season (2.57 FIP), and like every other player this season, there are some concerns with a small sample size. However, if his success this season carries over into next season then the Cardinals will have a strong left-handed complement to Giovanny Gallegos who should be well positioned for plenty of innings next season.

All of these pitchers are fully capable of racking up strikeouts and could be the core group of high leverage relievers for the Cardinals next season. Some of these players may struggle to replicate their success next season. However, there is also the potential for breakouts from players such as Whitley, Ryan Helsley and Seth Elledge. This should be a fun group of pitchers to watch, and at the very least, they should strike out plenty of opposing hitters. This could allow the Cardinals to have one of the better bullpens in the league next season, which will manifest itself better over a 162 game season.