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Cardinals need to improve their bench

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The Cardinals have been going a hitter short for much of the season, and despite concerns with overworking the bullpen, it is time to bring up another hitter for the bench.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Seth Maness came to the plate last night...

In a tie game...

With two outs...

In the 14th inning...

With a runner on base...

In scoring position...

Even though he was done pitching...

The Cardinals lost.

I do not believe that the above chain of events are completely unrelated. Fourteen inning games are obviously exceptional circumstances, but Maness' plate appearance does serve to highlight the Cardinals lack of bench options. The Cardinals' bullpen has been hit hard over the previous month. For the first few weeks of the season, Mike Matheny and the Cardinals got great performance from the starting rotation, and the best arms in the bullpen were used a lot to win a bunch of close games and help provide the Cardinals with the cushion they currently enjoy in the division. While the bullpen has been a strength, the bench has been a weakness and the Cardinals need to reach down to Memphis to help out the team.

After Adam Wainwright went down, the rotation struggled a bit, failing to provide the innings that the Cardinals needed. As a result the bullpen suffered a bit from overuse. Jordan Walden went down with an injury, and Mike Matheny was left with more to juggle as he could not continue to ride his best relievers like Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist, Matt Belisle, and even Seth Maness without also using less preferred options like Carlos Villanueva, Miguel Socolovich, and Mitch Harris.

Villanueva has excelled as a long reliever and Socolovich has pitched well while Harris has had his struggles, allowing the Cardinals to continue to pitch well. The team's 2.15 ERA is the best in the National League and third in all of baseball behind only the Royals and Astros. The 2.98 FIP is fourth in baseball and their 2.0 fWAR ranks third. The bullpen has pitched well and helped the Cardinals win a lot of games in the early going, and even though the usage patterns of the relievers in unsustainable, the Cardinals need to move back to a more traditional model and put more players on the bench.

The Cardinals bullpen is likely to perform worse over the course of the rest of the season, but the Cardinals need to have a better bench. The Cardinals best bench player right now is Mark Reynolds, and after him, the dropoff is steep. Pete Kozma is a bad major league hitter and generally not someone you want starting many baseball games to give players much needed rest nor is he someone who provides a threat off the bench. Tony Cruz is a bad major league hitter, and although he does serve a purpose as a guy who can sub in for Yadier Molina on rare days off, he is not somebody who provides help off the bench. Randal Grichuk has potential and might be a decent fourth outfielder right now, but he is not yet a capable major league hitter, especially against right-handed pitching as we saw last night in his five-strikeout game. The Cardinals have been going short on the bench for awhile and with Jon Jay on the disabled list and Peter Bourjos moved into a starting role, the bench is even more depleted.

The Cardinals offense has been a strength so far this season, their wRC+ of 108 for non-pitchers solidly above average. Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta, Matt Holliday, and Kolten Wong have carried the offense. Matt Adams and Jason Heyward should be better than he has shown thus far, and Yadier Molina has been roughly average offensively this season, but as we saw with Carpenter, the players are going to need breaks and starting Mark Reynolds to get a player a full day off means the bench is devoid of hitters.

Ty Kelly has not hit well so far in Memphis, but he has a solid walk rate and decent minor league track record. Xavier Scruggs has been hitting well in Memphis and provides a little bit of pop off the bench. Dean Anna can play shortstop and should be above replacement, which is more than we can say for the current backup shortstop. Pete Kozma has received 28 plate appearances in the past three weeks and seven times received more than on plate appearances in a game. For a player of Kozma's ability, that is too much exposure. The pace over the last three weeks would give him nearly 250 plate appearances over the course of the season.

The Cardinals have needed help for their bullpen over the last month and their bench has suffered as a result. While overworking relievers is not a good thing, the Cardinals should be able to mete out a reasonable number of innings to a traditional seven-man bullpen without burning them out by August. The Cardinals are in the middle of an incredibly tough stretch of games that can be taxing on position players as well. Resting starters is not the best way to win a game today, but perhaps if the Cardinals had more alternatives, Mike Matheny would feel more comfortable resting his starters, and perhaps the bench would look a little bit better towards the end of games. A bigger bench would at least make it slightly less likely that Seth Maness would come to the plate and be asked to knock in the winning run.