Before their win last night, the Cardinals had lost four in a row, though through no fault of their starting pitching. How have the Cardinals’ starters been so successful?
Through 41 games, the St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching staff has thrown 27 quality starts, tied for most in the league even with all the early season rainouts, resulting in a much higher quality start percentage than last season. Much of that has been due to Mike Leake. Leake has 8 quality starts in 8 starts, but the rest of the Cardinals’ starting pitching has settled in nicely as the season has progressed.
Even Adam Wainwright, who was left for dead just two weeks back, has thrown two consecutive quality starts. Michael Wacha has proven doubters wrong, although his shoulder issues may flare up later in the season, and Lance Lynn has rebounded nicely from Tommy John surgery. So, how have they done it?
Well, the most obvious reason is that the pitching is better this season. Mike Leake has had exceptional command this season, with a career best FIP of 3.20. While few expect him to finish the season with a 2.03 ERA, he is showing major signs of improvement over last season.
During spring training, Mike Matheny proclaimed that Leake is a different pitcher from last season. While those may have simply been words of encouragement then, they have certainly been true so far. While a .244 BABIP against him may not hold, or his 86.5 percent strand rate, he has been a pleasure to watch thus far this season.
Michael Wacha has also been fantastic thus far, with a 2.74 ERA, the lowest walk rate of his career, and his highest strikeout rate since his magical rookie season. His 2014 shoulder injury has plagued him these last few seasons, so it is smart for the Cardinals to be limiting his innings.
Matheny has already skipped one of his starts, and for Wacha to continue his success, Matheny must continue getting him the rest he needs. Similar to Mike Leake, an 81.1 percent strand rate will likely not hold for the remainder of the season, so look for some regression, but there is reason for optimism about Wacha.
After a rough patch in April, Carlos Martinez has rebounded with a 1.86 ERA in May, and look no further than his most recent outing as to why. He has been better about managing his pitch count, and has lowered his walk rate.
Cardinals fans all know what an excellent pitcher Carlos Martinez is: he has some of the filthiest secondary pitches in the game, and an explosive fastball that rivals the best. Look for him to continue his May success, as unlike Leake and Wacha, an uncharacteristically high strand rate is not helping his ERA.
Although Lance Lynn has struggled recently, that is to be expected for a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery. And a 2.78 ERA after 8 starts is great, and better than what many Cardinals fans hoped for. As the season progresses, and Lynn continues strengthening his arm and getting reacquainted with the MLB grind, look for him to continue doing what he does best: eating innings, and keeping the team in the game.
His stretch in late April to early May could not last forever, and Lynn has returned to Earth his last two games. Expect a lot more 6 inning, 2 run games in Lynn’s future this season.
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) May 21, 2017
After a truly terrible start to the season, Adam Wainwright has reeled off two great starts in a row. Following up his 7 inning scoreless gem from last week, Wainwright delivered a 6 inning, one run outing last night. Changing his approach on the mound has seemed to help him. He has cut down on his cutters and increased his curveball rates, and this change has paid off.
He was a great pitcher, and is a smart player, so expect him to continue working with Derek Lilliquist to make adjustments to figure out how to deal with less effective pitches, and provide solid leadership in the clubhouse. Remember, he struggled the season after his Tommy John surgery, albeit not as much as last season, and then reeled off two great years before his achilles injury. Look for him to continue improving, and transform into a solid number 2 pitcher.
While much of the Cardinals’ starting pitching success has been unsustainable, there is a marked improvement from last season. Now, let’s hope that can rub off on the bullpen.
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