Following the All-Star break, the Cardinals have heated up. As a result of all the close games, Mike Shildt has used his best relievers and most trusted relievers more often. This has highlighted a pair of connected problems. To begin with, Gallegos and other relievers have been overused as they took the mound in five of seven games between July 17 and July 23. This is clearly not sustainable over the course of the second half. Such usage will lower these relievers’ effectiveness and risk injury if it is sustained.
The reason for this overuse is because the Cardinals do not have many reliable relievers. Mike Shildt clearly does not trust his entire bullpen, and as a result, is forced to use the same pitchers in close games. As the close games pile up, this will become more of a problem.
Luis Garcia and Justin Miller appear to be the least trusted relievers. Garcia has been used just three times since joining the team on July 9 and in these three appearances he has thrown just one inning. Miller has also been used just three times in nine games since the all star break, throwing 2 1⁄3 innings. Andrew Miller has also thrown just 1 1⁄3 innings in two appearances since the break.
On the other hand, Giovanny Gallegos has made five appearances, throwing 4 2⁄3 innings, Ryan Helsley has made five appearances, throwing 4 1⁄3 innings, and Genesis Cabrera has also made five appearances, throwing 4 1⁄3 innings. All of these pitchers made five appearances in the span of seven games.
This is obviously a clear gap between Mike Shildt’s trusted options and the rest of the bullpen. Other options like TJ McFarland and John Gant are not preferred but have at least had enough usage to take innings away from other arms.
This kind of bullpen usage is not sustainable. Putting such a heavy workload on relievers like Gallegos, Cabrera, and Helsley will decrease their effectiveness as the season progresses which will further weaken a suspect bullpen. Obviously the bullpen needs more options that Shildt will trust in games.
There are two solutions to this problem. Either Shildt needs to use the relievers that he has available in his bullpen, or the Cardinals need to bring in relievers that Shildt will be willing to use.
John Gant could be a candidate for an increased workload, but it seems unlikely that Shildt will be willing to trust any waiver wire acquisitions to throw important innings. Gant currently seems to be the preferred option in long relief, but he could also make some shorter appearances as he has only been used twice since the All-Star break. His new bullpen role should make him more dependable than he was in the rotation. Besides Gant, the bullpen is short on reliable options as none of Andrew Miller, Luis Garcia, Justin Miller, or even TJ McFarland are appealing options.
As long as they are in the bullpen, Shildt is unlikely to stray far from his preferred arms. If these pitchers are not going to be used, then they should be removed from the roster for pitchers that will be used. Internal options could be Austin Warner, Junior Fernandez, Seth Elledge, or Brandon Waddell. However, alll of these pitchers have their own questions marks between a lack of time at the upper levels of the minors and previous struggles in the majors.
As a result, the Cardinals could look to add a reliever at the deadline. The team recently cleared a 40-man roster spot by waiving Roel Ramirez, and that spot could be reserved for a reliever. This would certainly help the bullpen, although it would not completely fix it as the team needs to add more than one quality reliever. At least such a move would provide another arm that Shildt could trust while Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty work towards a return. Once they return, the Cardinals can bump another pitcher or two into the bullpen.
It is clear that the Cardinals rely too much on Giovanny Gallegos and other relievers to carry the bullpen through close games. Part of the overuse of these pitchers is Shildt’s fault for not using other relievers. However, currently 1⁄3 of his bullpen was acquired off waivers this season, so it is understandable that he does not trust them in key spots. If the Cardinals are going to play well consistently during the second half then it is unsustainable to make Gallegos and other pitch in nearly every game. Something must change, whether it is personnel or usage, and this change will become clearer as the trade deadline passes.