ST. LOUIS -- One of baseball's clichés is that relievers are like offensive linemen: they're only noticed when something goes wrong. And there's a reason that sayings become clichés. It's often because they're true.

So while the Cardinals' bullpen has drawn tremendous attention for two unsuccessful nights, it's worth noting that overall, it's pitched very well. Fans are up in arms about St. Louis' relief corps, and the club is aware that it's an area where an upgrade might be feasible or even necessary. However, the fact is that the data don't support the hysteria.

Cardinals relievers carry a 2.89 ERA on the young season, fifth best in the National League. They have yet to blow a save. Their nine walks are tied for second fewest in the league, and their two homers allowed are tied for fourth fewest. The misses have been memorable, but evidently, the successes have gone unnoticed.

"I didn't even know [about the uproar]," closer Ryan Franklin said. "The only reason I know it is that one of my fellow bullpen mates happened to bring it up to me. And I told him, 'You can't listen to everything. You've got to keep your nose down and keep grinding.'"

The bullpen turned in a somewhat shaky performance on Opening Day, allowing four runs (three earned) in three innings. Since then, it has allowed three runs in 15 2/3 innings. The problem, of course, is that those runs have been very, very poorly timed. One came when Jason Motte surrendered a walk-off home run in Cincinnati, and another on a walk-off homer against Kyle McClellan in Milwaukee.

Thus, the calls for drastic change.

"I just think it's a tough league," manager Tony La Russa said. "If you don't do it, somebody is going to notice it and you're going to catch some heat. If you can't deal with it, you're doing the wrong thing for a living."

Ryan's D not affected by slump

ST. LOUIS -- Brendan Ryan's slump at the plate has not affected his defense.

Ryan made two outstanding inning-ending plays in Wednesday night's 2-1 win over the Astros despite another 0-fer night at the plate. On Thursday afternoon, Ryan got a breather, with Felipe Lopez taking his spot at short.

"We'll save him a couple at-bats today and keep Lopez alive," manager Tony La Russa said.

And while Lopez may provide an offensive upgrade, the Astros aren't sorry to see somebody other than Ryan in the field at shortstop.

"I think that's his reputation -- that he's been really a solid defender," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "That kind of goes with what we're seeing and how he's playing the game."

Worth noting

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals entered Thursday with a Major League-best 2.67 team ERA. ... For next week's series in Phoenix, the Cardinals should trot out a rotation of Brad Penny (Monday), Kyle Lohse (Tuesday) and Chris Carpenter (Wednesday). ... Manager Tony La Russa said the club has a plan for after that series laid out, but he did not divulge it. The April 22 off-day will provide an opportunity to skip fifth starter Jaime Garcia if the Cardinals so desire. ... Cardinals relievers have not allowed an inherited runner to score this year.