Helsley's dominant season nets him 2nd All-Star nod

July 7th, 2024

WASHINGTON – Cardinals closer had a season for the ages in 2022, throwing MLB’s fastest pitch three times, racking up his first immaculate inning, setting a career high in saves, reaching All-Star status for the first time while also becoming a father.

Somehow, he has been even more dynamic this season in becoming the game’s most dominant closer.

Helsley, far and away MLB’s leader in saves with 31, was named to the National League All-Star team on Sunday. Already the Cardinals’ longest-tenured player, Helsley is the Cardinals’ lone All-Star representative despite the team going 32-18 since Mother’s Day to surge back into contention in the NL Central.

“This time I’m more of a closer and last time [as an All-Star in 2022] I was just a reliever, I think,” Helsley said of his metamorphosis as a pitcher over the past two seasons. “I’ve just really tried to take that role on head-on and be available for every opportunity when it comes my way.”

The Cards had hoped that middle relievers JoJo Romero and Andrew Kittredge -- who rank first and third in MLB in holds with 26 and 24, respectively -- would have gotten All-Star nods, but instead the 29-year-old Helsley will be the lone representative out of the club’s bullpen.

Phillies lefty specialist Matt Strahm, who is 4-1 with seven holds this season, was the lone middle reliever selected to the NL’s All-Star team.

“Those guys have done an exceptional job of taking the ball every day and holding games where they were better than the rest of the league,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said about Romero and Kittredge’s bids to make the All-Star Game. “So, yeah, it’s definitely something you wanted to see.”

Helsley is just the ninth drafted and developed multi-time All-Star -- and just the second pitcher (joining Matt Morris) -- for the Cardinals since the Draft was instituted in 1965. Carlos Martinez, an international free-agent signee, made All-Star Games in 2015 and ’17. Helsley joined Hall of Famers Lee Smith and Bruce Sutter as the only Cardinals closers to make multiple All-Star Games while wearing the birds on the bat across their chests.

Marmol and pitching coach Dusty Blake decided in Spring Training that they would limit Helsley to only ninth-inning appearances in 2024, something they thought would make the closer available more often and more effective than ever.

As it turns out, they were right, as Helsley has set club records for consecutive saves (31) and saves before the All-Star break (31) en route to his second All-Star appearance. The club’s proclivity for playing close games -- they are 17-12 in one-run games -- has allowed the Cardinals to lean heavily on Helsley’s dominance.

“He’s been incredible,” Marmol said of Helsley, who also leads all of baseball with 33 save opportunities and 38 games finished. “He’s been taking the ball every time. His availability has been key to our success. We have such a small margin for how we win ballgames, and his ability to take the ball as much as he has has led to a lot of our success. So, he’s been a big key for us, for sure.”

Fitting the kind of season he is enjoying, Helsley got wins in both games he squandered saves this season. His club record of 31 straight saves came to an end on Friday in Washington when he allowed the automatic runner to score from second in the 10th inning. However, he lobbied Marmol to pitch the 11th inning -- his first multi-inning outing of the season after 39 straight one-inning efforts -- and he got the win in the Cardinals’ largest come-from-behind victory of the season.

Helsley, the NL’s Reliever of the Month in March/April and June, has registered a save or a win in 34 of the Cardinals’ 47 wins this season (72.3 percent). He’s pitched in 36 of his team’s wins this season, second only to Cleveland's Emmanuel Clase (38). Also, his 31 saves through the Cards’ first 87 games were the most in franchise history and tied for the seventh-most in MLB history.

Helsley has done all of that following a 2023 season where he was forced to miss 2 1/2 months of action with a flexor tendon strain in his right forearm. He got healthy late last season and carried that momentum in 2024 for the best stretch of his young career.

“It’s been so fun because we’ve played so many close games this year, and that really keeps you on your toes in the bullpen,” Helsley said. “It’s just been a fun year so far, and I’m just really looking forward to the second half.”