Rarely does a team rely on rookie pitchers as much as the St. Louis Cardinals have this year. The bullpen has held up so far with youngsters Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist, and Trevor Rosenthal coming through in a big way. Closer Edward Mujica and eighth inning man Rosenthal have both been pleasantly reliable, but the overall inexperience in the bullpen has to be a concern heading into the stretch run.
The Cardinals traded away key pieces from the 2011 bullpen in Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski earlier in the season, leaving Mujica, lefty specialist Randy Choate, and the struggling Fernando Salas as the only veterans in the pen.
This obviously was a concern for Cards general manager John Mozeliak. Last week, the club finalized a deal to acquire former Brewers closer John Axford, who had cleared waivers. If the once-dominant Axford can benefit from a change of scenery and recapture his own 2011 form, then the Cardinals will have made a great deal. But the move seems a little desperate, and it reveals a lack of confidence in some of the rookie relievers.
Axford had a modest 4.47 earned run average and seven losses this season with the Brewers before the deal. In completing the trade, the Cards sent away inconsistent 24-year-old reliever Michael Blazek, who had shown flashes of promise in this, his rookie year. Clearly the Redbirds were looking for a relief pitcher who has been through some postseason battles, otherwise they might as well have taken their chances with the younger Blazek, considering both pitchers have had rough patches this year.
While the division-leading Pirates have made trades to acquire veteran bats Marlon Byrd, John Buck, and Justin Morneau since the non-waiver trade deadline, the Cardinals only response, Axford, seems menial. But Mozeliak has shown a knack for acquiring the right reliever in midseason trades multiple times, with Octavio Dotel and Rzepczynski in 2011, and Mujica last year. In the 2011 deal, Dotel and Rzepczynski seemed like a raw return for potential star Colby Rasmus, however without those two crucial bullpen additions, the Cardinals probably do not win the World Series that year. It will be interesting to see if Mozeliak has done it again, or if the 30-year-old Axford’s best days are truly behind him.