Back in 2006, it was a kid-heavy bullpen with rookie Adam Wainwright closing out games. In 2011, Lance Lynn and Fernando Salas stepped forward as rookies to play major roles on another World Series champion. In 2012, the Cardinals have leaned heavily on rookie righties Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly to come within one game of a pennant.
Kelly is more of a long man at this point, coming in to pitch multiple innings when a Cardinals starter has a rough go. Rosenthal, the hardest-throwing reliever on the Cardinals, often pitches in the sixth inning when St. Louis has a lead, providing a bridge between the starters and the last-three-innings combination of Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte.
"The guys have been thrown into big situations and have delivered," said manager Mike Matheny. "So it's been something that's worked in the past and is working right now. But we have some very good instructors in our Minor League side in the development department, and I know that the way they prepare them sets them up for being successful at this level."
Both Kelly and Rosenthal still project as starters in the long run, and Kelly actually made 16 starts for the Cardinals in 2012. But for now, they're enjoying the opportunity to contribute regularly on a team playing for a championship.
"There's nothing better than going out there and being able to compete for your team, especially in the playoffs," Kelly said. "Being one of the younger guys, I went from starting to go into the bullpen this year. I think [with] starting, you only get maybe two chances in a series. But being in the bullpen, you don't know if you're going to pitch. And I like going out there and being in more than one game in trying to help our team win."