For Cards, 'pen has come together at right time
Late-season addition of Mujica, young arms coming into form have been key
SAN FRANCISCO -- If the last time you saw the St. Louis Cardinals for any length of time was last fall, then it's likely no surprise to you that their bullpen is mowing down hitters and bringing home wins. If, on the other hand, you spent a full season following the reigning World Series champions, it might still be a little hard to believe.
What was a source of much worry early in the season has become a major strength for the Redbirds. The addition of Edward Mujica, the clarification of some roles and the emergence of some hard-throwing youngsters has made the 2012 Cards relief corps a significant force.
"I think early in the year, we had some roles that were up in the air and maybe some inconsistency there," said Mitchell Boggs, one of the holdovers from 2011's remarkable Cardinals run. "I think adding Mujica has made a big difference, and the young guys throwing the ball the way they have has made it a lot easier to get to the back of the game. These guys are talented. Everybody out there that comes into the game is good enough to get anybody in this league out."
Their power was on full display on Sunday night in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Rookie Joe Kelly's escape in the fourth set the table, and lefty Marc Rzepcyznski danced out of some trouble in the fifth. From the sixth to the end, though, the Giants didn't even threaten.
Fireballing rookie Trevor Rosenthal walked one in the sixth, but he struck out Angel Pagan on his sixth straight 99-mph fastball. Mujica, acquired from the Marlins at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, struck out the most dangerous part of San Francisco's lineup in order in the seventh, getting swinging third strikes from Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey.
"We've got a good bullpen, a strong bullpen, and we have to be ready," Mujica said. "We have to be ready in different situations, no matter what situations. We just have to pick up guys, if the starters go four or five [innings], just try to pick them up."
Boggs got two flyouts and a groundout in a painless eighth, and closer Jason Motte worked around a single in a mostly uneventful ninth. The final overall line for the St. Louis bullpen was 5 1/3 innings, two hits, two walks and four strikeouts. All of it came against a Giants lineup that is one of the game's best.
"It's awesome to see that," said Rosenthal. "It's really exciting. We all love each other off the field, and to be able to come to the field and pick each other up, it's huge. Every night is not going to be the same. Sometimes someone's going to fall, but hopefully we're just going to keep going out there and try to pick them up as much as we can."
It was a performance that couldn't help recalling last season's NLCS, when manager Tony La Russa made early and aggressive moves to get to his bullpen over the course of a six-game triumph against the Brewers.
"I think if you're going to go deep into this thing, if you're going to make noise, your bullpen is going to have to show up," Boggs said. "It's not all these games that your guy is going to go seven, eight innings. It's going to become important, and it has been for us this postseason. It was for us last postseason. It's been a positive so far. We need to keep doing what we're doing."
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.