The Cardinal starting rotation has been its hallmark unit over the past few years, as it has annually produced among the top starting staffs in all of baseball. It has progressed from a finesse based unit of veterans and corner painters under the watch of former pitching coach Dave Duncan, to a blend of that same ilk of hurler, mixed in with emergent young power arms capable of running up the strikeouts under current pitching coach Derek Lilliquist.
In the 2014, Lilliquist’s starters finished in the top five of the National League in wins (64—4th), ERA (3.44—5th), complete games (8—1st), shutouts (23—1st) and average against (.243—2nd). And these measures were met by a staff that experienced more than its share of obstacles that likely kept it from reaching its full potential. Injuries to Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha took away two of the team’s most capable weapons during periods of time, while the stop and go nature of Jaime Garcia impacted the rotation as well. Youngsters Shelby Miller, Marco Gonzales, Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez, while showing promise, all went through growing pains at one time or another. Only Lance Lynn and John Lackey, who joined the club at the trade deadline, offered what can be considered a regularly dependable slate of options in the 2014 season.
Yet despite that all, it still remained a fantastic unit that produced a top three finisher in the season’s Cy Young race in Wainwright, as well as a 15-game winner in Lynn. And entering 2015, there are many of the same signs of optimism for the Cardinal rotation – which has been one of the most effective spring staffs in the game – but there are also some of the same caution signs that are strung up around it as well.
So what is a realistic expectation for the Cardinals’ signature unit? And what should be expected from its inhabitants for the upcoming year? Let’s take a look around the Cardinal starting pitching staff.
(Stats from 2014 season)
Adam Wainwright: The club’s entrenched rotation leader enters the year both on the heels of both a career-best campaign, highlighted by a second 20-win season and a call as starter of the All-Star Game, but also a struggle through to the finish line as well as he battled his health into the offseason. In October, he had elbow surgery to clean up some damage from a June aggravation and then experienced a delay in the start of his spring as well due to brief bout against a sports hernia.
Yet all things considered, he has picked up right where he would be expected to be at by this time of the year. Waino is a warrior that takes the job of leading the rotation – and team in many regards – seriously, and he showed up and had a cunning outing last night that spoke to There should be expectation that he is once again one of the better starters in the game again, as he has begun to show the ability to be just as lethal as a “thinking man’s” pitcher, as he is one with pure “stuff”.
2014 Numbers: 20-9, 2.38 ERA, 227 innings, 179 strikeouts, 5 complete games, 1.03 WHIP
2015 Prediction: 18-8, 2.90 ERA, 215 innings, 182 strikeouts, 3 complete games, 1.07 WHIP
Lance Lynn: He was perhaps the most important pitcher on the team last year, finally shaking off his habit of struggling through the second half and carrying the team while the rest of the rotation was in flux. At the end of it all, Lynn had established himself in the position that he carries into 2015: the team’s second biggest gun and the strong #2 guy that every elite rotation needs to have aboard it.
Lance shook of an early camp hip flexor injury already this spring and returned to his pre-existing strong form already. He has been the third winningest pitcher in the National League behind Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw over the past three years and was awarded with a three year contract extension as validation of his importance to the team both now and going forward. With there still being some question marks on the health of his other rotation mates, it would not be surprising to see the sturdy right-hander be rode even tougher this summer.
2014: 15-10, 2.76 ERA, 203 innings, 181 strikeouts, 2 complete games, 1.26 WHIP
2015 Prediction: 17-10, 3.20 ERA, 210 innings, 195 strikeouts, 2 complete games, 1.25 WHIP
John Lackey: He was brought aboard to provide depth and stability to the Cardinal rotation at a time when both were needed severely last August. And now entering his first full season with the club, it is his presence that is his most vital function to the team, as he provides stability at the core of a staff that needs it between its All-Star caliber front end and youthful second half. Having Lackey on hand to be a plus option in comparison to the mid-rotation options that many other clubs boast is a understated strength for the team if he can stay healthy.
2014: 14-10, 3.82 ERA, 198 innings, 164 strikeouts, 1 complete game, 1.27 WHIP
2015 Prediction: 12-10, 3.70 ERA, 190 innings, 162 strikeouts, 1 complete games, 1.31 WHIP
Michael Wacha: It was a tail of two years in one for Wacha a year ago, as he both at times showed the ability that made him one of the top sensations in the game in late 2014 but also struggles with a mysterious shoulder injury as well. If Wacha is truly able to get past the injury woes that slowed down his first full season and is able to get back to where he was early last season, then he is the key to potentially making this rotation go from just deep but to truly being excellent.
He was the best Cardinal hurler in the spring this year, showing that same dominant arsenal that made him the most dangerous pitcher on the team during its World Series run in 2013. But there should be an expectation for his exposure to tempered, if not on a strict innings limit, this season in order to both ease him into the rigors of an uninterrupted season and to be preventative against forcing the issue of any potential return of the shoulder injury shelved him for most of the second half.
2014: 5-6, 3.20 ERA, 107 innings, 94 strikeouts, 0 complete games, 1.19 WHIP
2015 Prediction: 14-7, 3.10 ERA, 182 innings, 175 strikeouts, 1 complete game, 1.15 WHIP
Carlos Martinez: He emerged victorious in the spring’s race for the fifth rotation spot, after an injury to Jaime Garcia arose and the club decided to let Marco Gonzales incubate a bit longer in Memphis. It is the greatest opportunity that the young righty has had thus far to prove that he permanently belongs in the starting rotation, and it will be one where every start counts. Yet he definitely earned his keep during the spring, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning and showing much improved command and control. His potential is clear as is the fact that he possesses perhaps the top raw arm in the organization. If he can take the inevitable bumps that he will face in stride, stay healthy and work consistently, it will be very difficult to pull away the spot that he has earned entering Opening Day.
2014: 2-4, 4.03 ERA, 89.1 innings, 84 strikeouts, 0 complete games, 1.41 WHIP
2015 Predicition: 9-7, 3.50 ERA, 140 innings, 130 strikeouts, 0 complete games, 1.35 WHIP
The Other Guys: It is impossible to predict what comes from Garcia, as his availability is so subject to change. It was just a month ago that he appeared ready to crash into the Opening Day rotation and then in just a matter of a week he had faded into the backdrop of camp casualty again. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is confounding difficult to predict medical condition and it has proven, as it did with Chris Carpenter just a few years ago, makes the recovery window from it a crap shoot to predict. It is likely that he still makes his way to St. Louis at some point during the season, but the when and how long are to hazy to confidently predict.
After a very encouraging and sometimes dominant spring, Gonzales will open the season in Memphis with a chance to continue building momentum for an inevitable return to the big leagues. Whether it be as a reliever for the time being or in the starter role he is destined to inhabit eventually, the 22-year-old lefty will make an impact for the Cardinals this year as a plus weapon in reserve.
Others such as Tim Cooney, Tyler Lyons and Zach Petrick could be called on if there are multiple damages done the rotation at once that are beyond being able to be plugged by the top candidates for the rotation, while Nick Greenwood and John Gast could also be involved as well.