The St. Louis Cardinals entered the 2012 season with a potent, yet aging, offense that was prone to injuries. That potential was realized as several key hitters hit the disabled list early in the season. However, the Cardinals pitching staff is still the biggest factor in the team’s success.
When the Cardinals jumped out to a 3.5-game lead in the NL Central through April, their team ERA was 2.66. In the following six weeks, the team has gone 18-24 heading into play Saturday. The team ERA was 4.43.
Plus, since the debacle of a series in New York that included Johan Santana’s no-hitter, the Cardinals have lost just two games when their pitching gave up less than six runs, including Friday’s nail-biter when Tyler Greene nearly tied the game with a Little League-style dash around the bases that ended in hime being thrown out at the plate.
So, what do all these numbers tell us? They say Cardinals fans should be much more concerned about the performance of the pitching staff than the lineup. Despite the myriad of injuries to position players, the Cardinals will still put up enough runs to contend more days than not. The key for a successful rest of the season is whether or not the pitching staff can keep the opposition’s score within reach.
And that’s been the problem.
Even without Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals starting rotation pitched great for the first month or so of the season. The staff even carried ace Adam Wainwright for much of April and the bullpen was solid. Then the wheels fell off. Kyle McClellan got hurt, and Fernando Salas, Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski saw their ERA’s balloon to a combined 4.32. Closer Jason Motte also blew three saves.
The pitching has been better of late, however. The Cardinals have given up four runs or less in eight of their last 11 games heading into play Saturday. The team won six of those games.
Basically, the Cardinals will win more often than not when they get good pitching performances. When they don’t, the team enters slumps that threaten to take them out of playoff contention. That’s not surprising. It’s been an old baseball adage forever.
Just look at the Pittsburgh Pirates, who up until this last week were tied for the division lead with the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates are hitting just .225 as a team, dead last in Major League Baseball. But they also have a 3.51 team ERA, fourth best in the league.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals could be in line for more problems after starting pitcher Jaime Garcia went down with shoulder trouble last week.
Hopefully new starter Joe Kelly can put together a few solid starts. His contributions, combined with an ever-improving Wainwright and continued stellar performances from Lance Lynn could be the most important aspect of the 2012 Cardinals team for the balance of the season.
Yes, offense is important, but the pitching staff will be what determines how far the Cardinals go in 2012.