The upcoming week is a crucial time span for the Cardinals as a team, but the starting pitching staff, it is also a chance to earn their keep. With the postseason looming, the team must make a decision about who it will have comprise its starting rotation, a decision that has become a crowded scene in recent weeks. Yet it could hold the balance of the season in the candidates that come from it.
While it is far from certain that the team has a place in the series round of the postseason yet, assessing how it stacks up for one is an important element to the next few weeks of the season. It could shape who gets starts when and how the club will line up arms headed into the last series’ of the year.
The organization has what could prove to be a tough decision in assessing who is in line for the starts, if not for what each candidate brings, but what they haven’t. Outside of just rounding out the rotation, it also impacts the bullpen and how moves into an already deep mix there. After the absolutes in Adam Wainwright and the now undeniable Joe Kelly, the trio of Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller each offer not only a different dynamic, but also a unique set of conditions headed into the last few weeks of the season. And the time is already underway to show and prove for each.
In the case of Miller, he would seem to be the biggest shoe in, and he may very well be. However, it is worth noting that he has struggled with his motion as a result of a bad back over his last few starts. Much can be tied to reaching a new career-high in innings pitched each time out, which is something the team could chose to manage over the next few weeks. His previous high was in 2011, when he threw 139 innings between the High-A and Double-A levels.
Yet, as he sits at 149 innings currently, his effort at repeating his mechanics and finishing innings has been noticeably tough for him. Despite a very good seven inning, three hit victory over Atlanta on August 24, in his 14 starts since June 17th, he has managed to complete six innings only four times and has seen his walk-to-strikeout ratio fall by over 1.00 in the second half. Regardless, the 12-game winner will be a part of a postseason rotation, but it would not seem to be a far-fetched idea that the team limits his innings if at all possible.
Then there is Lance Lynn, who has once again struggled through a second half that has ranged from average to completely unimpressive. After his second consecutive first half of double digit victories, he has only managed to post a 2-6 record post the All-Star Break, with an ERA over 5.00.
It was this same type of effort that cost Lynn his spot in the rotation last September, and there have not been many outings that have inspired much confidence in his ongoing role in the rotation recently. Despite the fact that he did turn his year around late last season once he came from the bullpen, the decision to not add an outside arm at the trade deadline had much weight on Lynn being able to add that experienced third arm in the rotation down the stretch. Yet now, reeling off four consecutive losses currently, his start on Wednesday against Milwaukee could very well be his most important of the season for his ongoing direction with the team this season.
Then there is the youngest of the group, as well as the hottest hand, in Michael Wacha. In his second trip joining the ranks of starting pitcher, he has been markedly better. His control has improved, as well as his pitch execution and assortment and due to this, his success has matched his potential. In his two starts in the past week, he has thrown 13 scoreless innings against the Reds and Pirates, yielding only five hits total. Add in the four innings he threw in relief of Wainwright versus Cincinnati on August 28th, where struck out seven while walking one, and he has been the most lights out of any St. Louis arm over the previous two weeks. He presents an unknown quantity to many teams, which is an added bonus.
Yet with that said, the bright lights of October are a different beast, and there is the matter of workload for Wacha as well. He has thrown a total of 131 2013 innings thus far, the most he has thrown in his pro and collegiate career, and eventually fatigue could factor into him as well. He has electric stuff, and the decision to best utilize him could see a return to the bullpen and employing him in the same late-inning capacity Trevor Rosenthal was so successful deployed in a year ago.