It all starts with pitching…and ends with it too.
Our final look around the St. Louis Cardinals stops on the pitching staff. As games in Jupiter begin shortly here is a look at the make-up of said staff before they break camp.
The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals were admittedly built around their offense. The trade of Brendan Ryan coupled with the acquisition of Ryan Theriot meant a defensive sacrifice at one of the toughest spots in the field. Combining this with Skip Schumaker at second and the rather limited range of the outfield, the team surrendered 84 unearned runs, the most in the majors.
The pitching staff, initially, was thought to be somewhat of an asset, if not overly a huge strength. The tandem of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright would be generally considered one of the strongest 1-2 combinations in the majors. As Murphy’s Law quickly pointed out, that wasn’t the case.
Heading into 2012 the Cardinals, with a healthy Wainwright, look to have the best rotation in the NL Central.
Chris Carpenter; 11-9, 3.45 ERA, 191 K, 105 ERA+, 1.256 WHIP
The first half of 2011 was a pretty rough one for Carpenter. As of June 17, he was 1-7 with an ERA of 4.47. After that, though, something clicked in his head, and he became the Chris Carpenter we’re accustomed to seeing, going 10-2 the rest of the way with a 2.73 ERA.
As an unforeseen consequence of the playoff run, however, Carpenter threw a total of 273.1 innings. Back when teams had four-man rotations, this wasn’t generally a big deal. Nowadays, especially for a pitcher who turns 37 in April and has had two surgeries on his throwing arm, it could be pretty significant. The Cardinals have already announced they will abbreviate his pitching schedule in spring training, and possibly beyond, in order to accommodate his arm. Carpenter signed a new two-year deal in the off-season, likely making the Cardinals the final team of his career.
Adam Wainwright; DNP
As soon as it was announced Wainwright would undergo Tommy John surgery, the season got a lot darker. There’s little question that even with Carpenter on the team, Wainwright had been the ace of the staff the last couple of seasons. In a two-year span, he’d gone 39-19 with a 2.53 ERA, 1.131 WHIP, and 3.48 K/BB ratio.
By all accounts, he’s throwing hard and able to snap off his curveball as effectively as before the surgery. Here’s hoping for a full season of health from him. The Cardinals picked up his option for 2012 and 2013, after which he’ll become a free agent. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the dominant starting pitchers in the league. This is, unfortunately, the second major injury he’s suffered in the last four years (he suffered a finger injury in 2008 that forced him to miss more than two months), so one has to wonder whether durability will become an issue.
Jaime Garcia; 13-7, 3.56 ERA, 156 K, 102 ERA+, 1.320 WHIP
Most likely the biggest factor was fatigue. After Garcia missed part of 2008 and most of 2009 due to Tommy John surgery, Garcia threw 163.1 innings in 2010 (previously, the most he’d thrown was 155 innings…in 2006). Typically, pitching coaches try to limit the increase in innings on a young arm to no more than 25 over the previous season, but Garcia blew past that in 2011: 194.2 in the regular season and another 25.2 in the playoffs.
Garcia has emerged as a legitimate above-average pitcher, and the return of Adam Wainwright should help alleviate some of the pressure on him. He signed an extension to his contract through 2015, with team options for 2016 and 2017, so he’ll be around a while. When his game is on, he’s on; he just has to improve the consistency of when he’s on.
Kyle Lohse; 14-8, 3.39 ERA, 111 K, 107 ERA+, 1.168 WHIP
Lohse is in the final year of his contract, and he was fully healthy last year and produced, unlike the first two years of his contract. He may not be as effective this year (his Batting Average for Balls in Play was an unusually low .269, a full 33 points below his career average), but if he stays healthy, he’s one of the better number four starters in the league. One interesting note about his career is that his best years tend to come every third year: 2002, 2005, 2008, and 2011 were all notable for being better than the rest of his career. Also, he’s the only member of the Cardinals’ starting rotation who hasn’t undergone Tommy John surgery.
Jake Westbrook; 12-9, 4.66 ERA, 104 K, 78 ERA+, 1.533 WHIP
Westbrook was the odd man out in the rotation during the playoffs, but he still played an important role. Westbrook pitched in two games and threw two scoreless innings, including the crucial 11th inning of Game 6. Facing four batters, two of which included Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli, Westbrook limited the Rangers to a single base hit, setting the stage for David Freese’s heroics.
Other than the season he missed due to Tommy John, Westbrook’s been a generally durable pitcher. He reported to camp this year having lost about 25 lbs. in an effort to increase his endurance and lighten the workload on his legs. I won’t be so bold as to predict a 20 win, sub-3.00 ERA season, but if Furcal can stay healthy and the Greene/Descalso combination can perform adequately at second base, it’s not unreasonable to expect 13-14 wins and a solid 180-200 innings from him. Coming from a fifth starter, you can’t ask for too much more.
At the end of the 2011 regular season, the Cardinals ranked 17th in bullpen ERA. But this was a group that evolved during the course of the season, as young relievers settled in, and by the time the Cardinals got to the World Series, it was a very different bullpen than it was in the frustrating days of early September. Jason Motte was never formally named the closer under Tony La Russa; maybe he’ll get that title from Mike Matheny. Marc Rzepczynski is viewed as an untapped gem, and maybe with a full season working under pitching coach Dave Duncan, he’ll become a dominant setup man.
Now, should one of the starters go down, the two most likely emergency starters would be Lance Lynn or Kyle McClellan. McClellan held his own as a starter last season for most of the first half, but eventually he faltered, perhaps due in part to lack of stamina (formerly a starter in the minors, he pitched the first three years and the last half of 2011 in the bullpen). Lynn is also a career starter in the minors who found his niche in the majors in the bullpen. He started two games last year, and other than his first rough outing, he was pretty lights out: in his final 17 games, he went 1-0 with a 2.15 ERA and allowed a slashline of just .204/.281/.301 while striking out 35 batters in 29.1 innings. During the playoffs, he was pretty solid. In the NLCS and World Series, apart from Game 6 (when he gave up three earned runs in 1.2 innings), he gave up a total of one earned run in 9.1 innings.