Key To The Season: Cardinals Rotation

“You can never have enough pitching.”

“Pitching and defense win championships.”

“Good pitching beats good hitting.”

Which one is your favorite quote about pitching? They all essentially say the same thing, and they all apply to every team that has ever played the game. You have to have pitching to contend. Just ask the Royals, Pirates, Blue Jays, Orioles, Naturals, and every other team that hasn’t been to the playoffs for a decade or more.

So where does that leave the Cardinals? Well it doesn’t take an expert to figure out losing Adam Wainwright for the season is going to be tough to overcome. And although he didn’t play much last year, losing Brad Penny isn’t going to help the team’s cause much either. Had both stayed with the team and stayed healthy, you’re probably talking about 30-35 wins just from those two guys alone. That’s a tall order for Kyle Lohse and Kyle McClellan. Most would say it’s impossible, but there are at least a couple reasons to believe they can pull it off.

Lohse is finally healthy – The last time Kyle Lohse was fully healthy was in 2008, a year in which he went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA. If Lohse can stay health and re-channel the Dave Duncan magic, he has a chance to return to double digits wins. 15 might be pushing it, but you never know. I expect he will at least win 12.

McClellan’s stock is rising – Kyle McClellan has been mowing down opponents in this, his first spring training as a starter. He’s had 4 wins in the month and shows no signs of slowing down. The 26 year old’s stock has been rising ever since 2008…when he made the jump straight from AA Springfield to the major league bullpen in St. Louis. His ERA in his first three seasons has gone from 4.04 in 2008 to 3.38 in 2009 to 2.27 last year (notice a trend?). There’s no reason to believe McClellan can’t do this year what Jaime Garcia did last year and put together a solid 15+ win season. Conservatively, McClellan should get at least 10 wins this year.

So on the low side, you have 22 wins; on the high side you have 30.

Other Positive Notes

– Jake Westbrook’s presence for a full season: Obviously when a pitcher switches leagues and comes over for 12 starts in a trade, his impacts won’t be anywhere near what it will be for a full season. He’s another pitcher who can hopefully fulfill his full potential under Dave Duncan’s guidance.

– Chris Carpenter still has it: Carp went 16-9 with a 3.22 ERA last season. He’s not getting any younger, but shows no signs of slowing down.

-Jaime Garcia: This is the true wild card in the rotation. Garcia went 13-8 with a 2.70 ERA last season, but really faded towards the end of the season and his struggles have continued this spring (his spring ERA is over 6). If Garcia can regain his confidence and build off of his rookie season success, the Cardinals’ staff will be in great shape with he and Carpenter as a 1-2 punch.

What the rotation needs to do for the Cardinals to contend:

Win 60 or more games: Again, a very tall order, especially considering last year’s rotation won 63 games, and 20 of those aren’t coming back (Adam Wainwright). Carpenter and Garcia will need to average 15 each (which the just about did last year) and the other 3 starters will need to get into double figures. Even with 63 wins last year, the team still lost the division race by 5 games. 60 is simply a number they must get to, if not surpass, in order to keep the Cardinals in contention.

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