A great example is the "bullpen start" on Sunday, September 30 to close out the regular season. Career reliever Troy Percival was given the call to open the game, going one inning, then turning the ball over to eventual winner Kip Wells who added three more scoreless frames of his own. It was Percival's first-ever start after 638 MLB relief appearances over 12 seasons.
Even before the eight pen innings on that final Sunday, the 2007 Cardinals established a single-season club record for relief innings-pitched in a season. The final total of 546 2/3 innings easily surpassed their previous high of 533 2/3 innings-pitched, which was accumulated during the 1998 campaign.
As a footnote, the 1998 club also finished in third place in manager Tony La Russa's third season with the Cardinals, but their 83-79 overall record was five games better than the 2007 edition. That pen was led by closers Juan Acevedo and Jeff Brantley, set up by John Frascatore, Lance Painter and Rich Croushore,
Another franchise record had already been set before La Russa called on nine different relievers following "starter" Percival on September 30. The 2007 Cardinals pen was summoned in a record 159 games. Put another way, the team's starters managed just three complete games all season long.
Russ Springer's career-high eighth win on the final Friday night, September 28, followed by Wells' victory on the closing day, were the 29th and 30th wins, respectively, by the Cardinals' bullpen during this past season.
The 2007 pen joins only five other Cardinals teams in history whose bullpens logged 30 or more wins. The team record is 36 pen wins, set in 1987, followed by 33 in both 1992 and 2002, 31 in 2004 and 30 in 1991 and here in 2007.
The bullpen's .714 winning percentage (30-12) this past season is ranked second among all Cardinals bullpens in history, trailing only the 1974 staff, which went 28-8, .778.
There were plenty of individual standout performers, of course. Stats of the 21 men who pitched in relief for the Cardinals this past season are listed below, with individual leaders in bold. It should noted that two of them are position players – Aaron Miles and Scott Spiezio.
2007 Cardinals Bullpen (individual statistics):
|2007 stats||G||IP||W-L||H||Svs/||ERA||K to||First||Inh.|
|(in relief only)||Opps||BB||Btr./||Rnrs/|
Recently re-signed Russ Springer was the pace-setter in three categories – games, won/loss record and strikeout-to-walk ratio. Ryan Franklin, Jason Isringhausen and Todd Wellemeyer each led in two. (First batter retired and inherited runners scored data is available only for relievers active at season's end.)
With the return of Springer, Franklin, Izzy, Randy Flores, Tyler Johnson, Brad Thompson and Wellemeyer assured, along with the expected recovery of Josh Kinney, the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen is again lining up to be a team strength for 2008. In fact, of this year's front-line relief participants, only the future of the final game starter and former Angels closer Percival is unresolved.
Even so, Cardinals fans hope to see their bullpen members take the mound considerably less often in 2008. In other words, the organization needs to find someone to provide a marked improvement in the starting staff, arguably representing their biggest off-season shopping item.
While tapping their relief depth by calling upon a Wellemeyer, Thompson or even former starter Franklin to start is tempting, and makes sense in a jam, that wouldn't be enough to serve as an effective "Plan A" if the 2008 Cardinals want to reclaim the top spot in the National League Central.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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