ST. LOUIS -- One of baseball's clichés is that relievers are like offensive linemen: they're only noticed when something goes wrong. And there's a reason that sayings become clichés. It's often because they're true.
So while the Cardinals' bullpen has drawn tremendous attention for two unsuccessful nights, it's worth noting that overall, it's pitched very well. Fans are up in arms about St. Louis' relief corps, and the club is aware that it's an area where an upgrade might be feasible or even necessary. However, the fact is that the data don't support the hysteria.
Cardinals relievers carry a 2.89 ERA on the young season, fifth best in the National League. They have yet to blow a save. Their nine walks are tied for second fewest in the league, and their two homers allowed are tied for fourth fewest. The misses have been memorable, but evidently, the successes have gone unnoticed.
"I didn't even know [about the uproar]," closer Ryan Franklin said. "The only reason I know it is that one of my fellow bullpen mates happened to bring it up to me. And I told him, 'You can't listen to everything. You've got to keep your nose down and keep grinding.'"
The bullpen turned in a somewhat shaky performance on Opening Day, allowing four runs (three earned) in three innings. Since then, it has allowed three runs in 15 2/3 innings. The problem, of course, is that those runs have been very, very poorly timed. One came when Jason Motte surrendered a walk-off home run in Cincinnati, and another on a walk-off homer against Kyle McClellan in Milwaukee.
Thus, the calls for drastic change.
"I just think it's a tough league," manager Tony La Russa said. "If you don't do it, somebody is going to notice it and you're going to catch some heat. If you can't deal with it, you're doing the wrong thing for a living."