Cardinals Bench, Bullpen Vital to World Series Title Hopes

Jason MartinezContributor IOctober 16, 2013

Roster depth can sometimes take on a lesser role when it comes to the playoffs but that hasn't been the case with the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals. Manager Mike Matheny has utilized his entire eight-man bullpen while a bench that lacks much firepower has also contributed to the team's postseason success.

And they've needed every little contribution they can get with the margin of victory being just five total runs in four of their six wins. 

Tuesday's 4-2 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers has the Cards within one game of what would be their fourth World Series appearance in 10 years. The road doesn't get any easier, either. They'd face either the Detroit Tigers or Boston Red Sox, both teams filled with veteran talent.

While the Cards will likely need their big bats to come through, as Matt Holliday finally did with a two-run homer in Game 4—he had been 6-for-32 with one homer in the playoffs coming into Tuesday's game—if they're to have a chance of winning it all, it sure does help when Daniel Descalso is starting rallies, Shane Robinson is hitting pinch-hit homers and rookie relievers Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness and Carlos Martinez are shutting down opponents. 

Descalso's leadoff single against Dodgers starter Ricky Nolasco got things going in the third inning. Matt Carpenter doubled him home two batters later and Holliday gave the Cards a 3-0 lead with a two-out homer after Carlos Beltran had grounded out. 

It was also the 26-year-old Descalso who had a pinch-hit single in the 13th inning of Game 1 and later came around to score the game-winning run on Beltran's walk-off single.

His .656 OPS during the regular season was nothing to write home about, but he has a knack for coming up in the clutch. After posting a .627 OPS with four homers in 143 regular games in 2012, the left-handed hitter went 6-for-19 with two homers, a double and six runs batted in during the team's NLDS victory over the Nationals. He also had a key hit in the team's dramatic come-from-behind Game 6 win over the Rangers in the 2011 World Series. 

October 15, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA;  St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Shane Robinson (43) rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game four of the National League Championship Series bas
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Robinson (pictured), a 28-year-old reserve outfielder who was drafted by the Cardinals back in 2006, picked a good time for his first postseason hit. He ended an 0-for-10 career playoff drought by homering to left off of Dodgers lefty J.P. Howell to extend his team's lead to 4-2 in the 7th inning. He had a .597 OPS against lefties during the regular season.

A half-inning earlier, the Dodgers got as close as they were going to get. Down 3-2, Yasiel Puig hit a one-out single to knock starter Lance Lynn from the game. Enter Maness, a sinker-baller who specializes in inducing double-play grounders. Three pitches later, Juan Uribe had done just that. Threat over. 

Aug 17, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Seth Maness (61) throws a pitch during the seventh inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. St. Louis won 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Converted to the bullpen early in the 2013 season, the 25-year-old Maness (pictured) posted a 2.32 ERA with a fastball that averaged 90.5 MPH, according to FanGraphs. He had a spectacular 2012 season with a 2.97 ERA, 10 walks and 112 strikeouts in 169.2 innings between Double-A and High-A. But with a need in the 'pen, the Cardinals trusted the control-artist to come up and give them some quality innings. Good call. 

With All-Star Edward Mujica taken out of a high-leverage role after a rough September and primary setup man Trevor Rosenthal stepping into his closer's role, the Cardinals have turned to Martinez, a 22-year-old right-hander who came into the season as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. He's showing why he was so highly thought of before the season with the work he has been in thus far in the postseason.

Since allowing two runs in a Game 3 loss to the Pirates in the NLDS, Martinez has been nearly un-hittable over his last 4.1 innings pitched. He pitched two scoreless innings on Monday. In Game 2 of the NLCS, he struck out the only two batters he faced to preserve a 1-0 lead in the 8th inning. He also pitched a scoreless eighth in the Game 1 and retired two hitters in the eighth inning of the team's Game 5 NLDS victory over the Bucs. 

Oct 12, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Carlos Martinez (62) reacts after retiring the Los Angeles Dodgers during the 8th inning in game two of the National League Championship Series baseball game at Busch Stadium. Mandatory
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the postseason, Martinez (pictured) had just 28.1 innings of MLB experience and had allowed 16 earned runs. Mujica's struggles were part of the decision to give him a more integral role on the playoff roster but Matheny's confidence in his young pitchers is certainly paying off.

Rosenthal is thriving as the team's closer. The 23-year-old fireballer might not ever relinquish that role. Veterans Mujica, John Axford and Randy Choate have also chipped in, combining for 5.1 scoreless innings.

It's been an all-around team effort for St. Louis, although it's been absolutely necessary with so many lineup regulars struggling. If they're going to finish off the Dodgers, who plan on starting Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu in the next three games, and then get through either the high-powered Red Sox or Tigers in the World Series, they'll need to continue doing it with the entire 25-man roster.

The "on paper" match-ups might not work in their favor, but that hasn't stopped them thus far.