On Opening Day 2014, Adam Wainwright was lights-out. Not only did he give the Cardinals seven strong innings, but he did so in one of the most dominant ways possible. He only allowed three hits, walked four, struck out nine and allowed no runs.
Wainwright is one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball. Which may sound weird, considering he is considered to be an ace and a great pitcher. Being underrated comes from the fact that he is never in the conversation as the best pitcher in baseball, even though he belongs in it. There is a rotating door of star pitchers who are considered to be the best for a moment. A few years ago, Tim Lincecum and Ubaldo Jiminez were hands-down the two best in baseball, yet both have flamed out to some degree. Matt Cain was in the conversation for a bit. Josh Johnson for a bit. And now, Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez seem to be the best pitchers in the game. Take your pick between the two.
Wainwright’s name is rarely in the discussion. And possibly for just reasons, as he may not be quite on that level, missing it by a split of a hair. Yet his dominance is filled with such consistency and longevity, that he is in the conversation as the best pitcher over the last five years.
In a way, he epitomizes the Cardinals rotation. He is a microcosm for the rest of them. Most rankings put the Cards somewhere in the top 10 best rotation in all of MLB, but like Wainwright, they are not quite in the conversation as being the best. the Dodgers, the Nationals, the Tigers and the Rays all seem to take up that conversation. Writers tend to comfortably put the Cards somewhere just behind them.
This MLB.com ranking, for instance, put them number 5:
Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn started Games 3 and 4 of the World Series, respectively. Yet they’ll be competing for a rotation spot. That’s how deep this Cardinals staff has become, given the presence of ace Adam Wainwright, the emergence of October hero Michael Wacha, the upside of October absentee (but nonetheless noteworthy) Shelby Miller and the possibility that the electric Carlos Martinez might be worth slotting into a starting spot.
Toss in Jaime Garcia, who is still owed $17 million over the next two seasons, and the Cards have the enviable problem of too many cooks in the kitchen. No telling what they get from Garcia. One way or another, though, it’s a fair bet that they’ll sort it out and come out with a top 10-worthy unit, and it will be exciting to see what Wacha, in particular, accomplishes over a full season.
Yet the Cards rotation has the ability to explode and be the best of them all. Waino is the dominant force he is. Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha and possibly Carlos Martinez (if given the chance to start), have ceilings that fans and writers have no ways of predicting. Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly may be what you get with them, solid and more predictable starters, yet they are theoretically only filling out the end of the rotation.
In that same MLB article, they state the Nationals have the best rotation. Not exactly a bad pick. But when you look closer, you see a lot of predictability, regardless of how solid of arms. Stephen Strasburg could definitely still develop into one of the best pitchers in the game. But Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Ross Detwiler are basically known variables, even if that variable produces a lot of quality.
The Cards rotation is an edgier pick. Wacha COULD be the pitcher he was last fall. Miller COULD be the future ace we all heard of at one time. Martinez COULD be the next Pedro Martinez. All of these things COULD all happen this year. And if so, the Cards COULD have the best rotation in the game.
And with that success, the rotation will be dominating hitters all season long. Much like Wainwright did on Monday. It’s good to have baseball back.