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St. Louis Cardinals: Looking at the Rotation

Cardinals 4/13

One Week into the Season, Let’s Look at how the Cardinals’ Rotation is Performing

Two days ago, on Opening Day at Busch Stadium, Cardinals fans were treated to an offensive barrage. 10 runs on 19 hits. The offense was simply impeccable. 7 out of the 9 starters recorded a hit and 6 players had multi-hit games. Notably, Jeremy Hazelbaker went 4-for-4 and Aledmys Diaz went 3-for-5 in their Busch Stadium debuts.

Though the offense looked great, that is not something Cardinals’ fans can expect to see on a nightly basis. The offensive outburst was more a result of the adrenaline surrounding Opening Day and the fact that the Cardinals were playing against a rebuilding Brewers team that sent out a shaky young pitcher in Taylor Jungmann. The strength in this Cardinals team still lies in the team’s pitching.

So far, we’ve seen that the bullpen has been dominant, but what about the starting pitching? What about the pitching staff that lead the majors in ERA only a season ago? How have they looked now pitchers are starting to get their second turn to pitch in 2016?

Adam Wainwright, the ace of the team, hasn’t looked like his usual self after two starts into the season. Wainwright started Opening Day at Pittsburgh and another game in Atlanta. In two games (11 innings pitched), he has given up 12 hits and a whopping 8 earned runs. Though you can excuse him for giving up 3 runs against a good Pittsburgh hitting team, giving up 5 earned runs in 5 innings against the Atlanta Braves is not what you want to see from your team’s ace. The most concerning statistic is that he has already given up 8 walks. In Wainwright’s peak years, his strength was his command and his low walk rate. Wainwright definitely hasn’t had the starts that he wanted to start this season– he even called himself “average” in a postgame interview. Look for Wainwright to bounce back in his next scheduled start on Saturday.

Michael Wacha, the second pitcher in the rotation, has looked much better. In 10 and 1/3 innings pitched against the Pittsburgh Pirates and, two days ago, the Milwaukee Brewers, he has only given up 4 earned runs. His statistics are inflated by the 6 shutout innings in the 10-1 blowout against the Brewers; nonetheless, he has still looked decent. Wacha has been hit a lot this year giving up 14 hits. In the Pittsburgh game, he didn’t have good command and most of his pitches were left in the middle of the plate, allowing the Pirates to hit him hard, but he was able to get the outs he needed to and work his way out of jams in order to keep his team in the game. Encouragingly enough, he has only given up 2 walks with 10 strikeouts.

Mike Leake, an offseason acquisition, hasn’t looked good in his only start at Pittsburgh. In 4 and 1/3 innings he gave up 4 runs. Those are not good ratios. He also gave up 7 hits and 3 walks. In that game, the Cardinals hitters struggled at the plate and wer only able to score 1 run. Those are the days the pitching staff is expected to carry the team and Leake wasn’t able to do that.

Jaime Garcia, the fourth pitcher in the rotation, has looked decent, but he hasn’t lived up to his tremendous expectations after a stellar year last year. Against a bad Braves team, he only gave up 5 hits in 6 innings. However, those were big hits as they led to 4 earned runs. In 2015, Garcia had a 2.43 ERA. 4 earned runs in 6 innings simply won’t cut it, with the team heavily depending on another good year from him.

Carlos Martinez, in the first time through the rotation, has perhaps looked like the ace pitcher in this rotation. In 6 innings, he only gave up 4 hits and 2 earned runs. Though his 3 walks were probably more than he would’ve liked, he had a very good 2016 debut.

Leake, Garcia, and Martinez have all had only one start in 2016. For now, it is hard to tell whether their starts will be indicative of their 2016 success. We will have to see how they do in their next couple of starts.

More times than not this year, the offense has looked stagnant for the majority of time with offense coming in big bursts. However, coming into 2016, that was expected. There is no player in this lineup that should absolutely terrify opposing pitcher. The harsh truth is that the pitching will have to carry this team to victory. Though the standard for a quality start in the MLB is 6 innings pitched with 3 or less runs given up, for the Cardinals a “quality” start is more like 2 or less runs given up.

For now, it is still too early to judge whether the pitching staff can repeat as the rotation with the lowest ERA in the MLB. However, one rotation in, the theme has been consistent: the pitchers haven’t looked as good as we want to see. Let’s see if they can bounce back starting today, with Mike Leake pitching against the Brewers.

Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports