I know I am going to be accused of over-reacting to a single game with this post, but after last night's debacle I have been giving this some thought, and I think the priority for Mozeliak should be the bullpen. Forget more bats and more starting pitching......if this team is going to stay in the post-season race, the bullpen needs upgraded......and now. Called on to protect a 10-4 lead in the 7th last night, the bullpen couldn't get it done. It was an equal opportunity failure, though, as Ryan Franklin, Jason Isringhausen, Kyle McClellan and Chris Perez all threw gasoline on the Pirates' fire.
While it is obviously easy to say the bullpen is a priority after a game like last night, follow my reasoning here. There are four primary areas that a team needs for contention: defense, offensive production, starting pitching and relief. First, the Cardinal defense is obviously good enough to win, and isn't a concern. Second, the offensive production has lagged a bit in recent weeks, but there is enough there to keep us in games, and continue to keep the Birds in contention. Pujols, Ankiel, Ludwick, Glaus, etc can provide enough pop to keep us in the running. Third, the starting pitching, while not dominant, are good enough to keep us in games as well. Looper, Wellemeyer, Piniero and certainly Lohse give us a chance to win most nights, and if we add Wainwright or Carpenter to the mix, so much the better. The bullpen as it is performing now, gives us no chance to win. Confidence can be a contagious thing, and there seems to be a complete lack of confidence and edge in the relievers as they come in to try and lock down games. The difference from last year is that Izzy was on his game all year, and the presence of Troy Percival gave the bullpen an attitude that is lacking this year. This is a group is desperate need of a transfusion.
Obviously in the post-season you need offense, starting pitching and great relief work to win. Think back to 2006: what was the primary reason the Cardinals made it through the Mets in the NLCS? Certainly they got decent offensive production and the starting trio of Carpenter, Suppan and Weaver was dead-on solid throughout the postseason. However, the primary deciding factor that pushed us past the Mets was a lockdown bullpen. Josh Kinney, Randy Flores and inexplicably, Tyler Johnson, were lights out when called on in the late innings, and Adam Wainwright stepped up and was shut-down in the closer role. Every time we needed to get Delgado or Beltran out in a big spot, one of the lefties stepped up and did it, and then Adam closed out the 9th. There is no way with this current group that I can see a similar situation unfolding.
The 2008 Cardinals have a chance to win. The 2006 postseason proved that you do not have to be the best regular season team to experience post-season success. The current offense and starting staff can keep this team in contention.....the bullpen can not. Mozeliak should focus every effort into fixing the bullpen, whether it is Fuentes, Marte, or someone else.....and do it quickly.