Going into the final two games of the St. Louis CardinalsLos Angeles Dodgers matchup in the National League Championship Series, all the talk has centered on starting pitching.

You know all about the Clayton Kershaw-Michael Wacha showdown for Friday night’s Game 6. There’s a possibility that Adam Wainwright could face Hyun-Jin Ryu in Game 7 with a trip to the World Series on the line.

Not that Wainwright thinks there will be a Game 7, according to ESPN.com’s Arash Markazi:

But don’t forget about the bullpens as the series wraps up in St. Louis with the Cardinals leading the series 3-2, one victory away from their second World Series trip in three years.

Chances are, relief pitching will play a crucial role in deciding the outcome of the NL pennant. Runs will be at a premium with such stellar solid pitching on the mound, so let’s take a look at the bullpens on each side.


St. Louis Cardinals

Former closer Edward Mujica has had an unspectacular fall from grace since September, but the team has benefited from the rise of rookie Trevor Rosenthal. Mujica had 35 saves in 37 opportunities with a 1.73 ERA through August, setting himself up nicely for a free-agent deal this offseason. But he regressed in September, posting an 11.05 ERA in 10 appearances, blowing two saves and losing his role as closer.

Since then, Rosenthal has been a revelation. But it’s not like success in the playoffs is anything new for the 23-year-old, who helped the Cardinals during their NLCS run last year. The fireball-throwing right-hander is yet to allow a run in 14.2 career postseason innings, including six scoreless frames so far this year.

He’s already notched two saves this series, including in Game 4 when he struck out Juan Uribe to close out the 4-2 Cardinals victory:

Entering play Friday, the Cardinals have a 1.93 bullpen ERA so far in the postseason, better than the 2.86 ERA mark that the Dodgers have posted thus far. It’s not just Rosenthal who’s been producing for the Cardinals all year. Setup men like rookie southpaw Kevin Siegrist (0.45 ERA), veteran lefty Randy Choate (2.29 ERA) and rookie righty Seth Maness (2.32 ERA) each posted great numbers in the regular season.

Not to mention, the bullpen likes to stretch together:

So far, the Cardinals bullpen has given up three runs in 15 innings of work in the NLCS. It played key roles in the victories of Game 1 and Game 2, but it gave up two costly runs in the 6-4 Dodgers win in Game 5. Otherwise, this bunch has been hard to hit.


Los Angeles Dodgers

These Dodgers are all about star power and they have a bunch of it in Brian Wilson. With his outrageous beard and long black locks flowing from underneath his cap, Wilson has provided an instant boost to the Los Angeles bullpen since joining the club in August.

He might not have the blazing fastball that he once possessed, but Wilson has been effective as ever this postseason in a setup role, allowing just four hits in six scoreless games. His most recent appearance came in Game 5, when he completed a 1-2-3 eighth inning:

But all roads lead to closer Kenley Jansen in the Dodgers bullpen. Despite racking up 53 saves with a 2.10 ERA the past two regular seasons, Jansen has looked shaky so far in the NLCS. He gave up two runs in the 6-4 Dodgers win Game 5, and he was also responsible for surrendering Carlos Beltran’s game-winning walk-off single in the 13th inning of the Cardinals’ 3-2 win in Game 1:

Aside from Wilson, other top setup man would be lefty J.P. Howell (2.03 ERA), as the Dodgers left fellow southpaws Chris Capuano and Paco Rodriguez off the NLCS roster. Other than Jansen’s miscues, this group has given up just two runs in 13.1 innings of work.


The Advantage

Even though the Cardinals are relying on six rookie pitchers in the bullpen right now, the group has handled the bright lights of the postseason well. When you factor in the postseason performances of each team’s young closer, it appears Rosenthal has the edge over Jansen as well.

As the stakes get higher in the postseason, the Cardinals looked poised to handle the pressure with a deeper bullpen and top, proven season-long options from both the left and right sides of the mound. It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that we see four complete games in the final two contests of this series, but don’t count on it.

Expect some late-inning drama and count on the Cardinals bullpen to shut the door on the Dodgers if it has the opportunity.

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