Fans wave their rally towels as St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jason Motte delivers a pitch in the ninth inning. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Say what you want about the recent power surge from Albert Pujols and David Freese or Chris Carpenter’s masterful three-hit, complete game shutout in game five against the Phillies. The biggest reason the Cardinals are in the NLCS, with a chance to go up three games to one, is the biggest question heading into October has been answered…can the bullpen hold up? 

The Cardinals were piecing together a bullpen during their late September run where nobody knew their role. Was Jason Motte the full-time closer? Who was the set up man? Would Tony La Russa use Arthur Rhodes or Mark Rzepczynski, as the lefty specialist? We certainly didn’t see the emergence of Lance Lynn in the NLCS, did we?

Motte says it’s the entire bullpen coming together and realizing it doesn’t matter when or where you pitch. It’s the playoffs and time to perform. Motte points to Fernando Salas.

Motte audio (:29)

Salas came on for Ryan Franklin early in the season and recorded his first of 24 saves on April 28th. He also blew six saves and found himself in more of a setup role for Motte down the stretch. However, in the playoffs, Salas came in for Carpenter in his first start in Philly in game two and pitched the fourth and fifth innings in a game the Cardinals came back to win. Then in game three of the NLCS, Salas came in again for Carpenter and had a 1-2-3 sixth inning.

Another surprise has been Lance Lynn. The rookie was added to the roster after Skip Schumaker got hurt in the Phillies series and La Russa wanted to add the extra arm. Apparently La Russa lost faith in Kyle McClellan, because he has called on Lynn in all three games. Lynn has pitched three innings total and allowed just one hit and a walk. He came in game two with the Brewers threatening with the bases loaded and one out and got Rickie Weeks to ground into an inning ending double play killing the threat and the Brewers chance of any comeback in the Cardinals big 12-3 win.

The numbers don’t lie. If it wasn’t for the bullpen, the Cardinals would be done. In eight games, the starters have turned in just three quality starts, averaging less than five innings per start. The starter’s combined ERA is 5.81 allowing 25 runs in the post season.

On the other hand, the bullpen’s ERA is 3.11 over the first eight games and if you take out five runs Rzepczynski and Boggs gave up in the first game at Philly, the pen has allowed just four earned runs in 23.2 innings, good for a 1.52 ERA.

As some point, one has to believe the Cardinals are playing with fire. Counting on the bullpen to get 12 outs every game is eventually going to come back and bite them.

La Russa on the pen (:22)

Now is the time for the starters to step up their game and deliver.