The last two nights at Busch Stadium have been indicative of much about the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2012 season. An injury-shortened roster has overexposed the team’s depth, the bullpen has been hit-and-miss, and the offense has sputtered with runners in scoring position. The result: back-to-back 2-1 losses; a total of two runs scored in 18 innings. And the two most consistent pitchers in the rotation this year—Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook—were the hard-luck starters.
Neither of these pitchers has gone wire-to-wire with stellar numbers this season. But they have basically been themselves or better throughout 2012. And if we were talking about Adam Wainwright or Chris Carpenter or even Jaime Garcia, it might seem par for the course. But this is Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook we’re talking about. They’re supposed to be a number three and a number four or a number four and a number five, but they’re pitching like a number two and a number three. And with Carpenter out for the season and Garcia missing a good chunk of 2012, that’s just what the Cardinals needed. Unfortunately, the team hasn’t been able to respond with any real run support of late.
Lohse has allowed more than two earned runs in just one of his last 10 starts. His ERA currently sits at 2.61 on the season; barring some disastrous starts in the last month and a half of this year, he will finish the season with an ERA under three for the first time in his career. The last time he failed to go six or more innings in a start it was still May. In the starts since, the Cardinals have lost five of the 14 games Lohse has started…and in those losses the Cards game him seven total runs in support, and he allowed seven total earned runs. He’s been great, but the team behind him has been brutal.
Westbrook is enjoying a great season as well. He has pitched at least six innings in each of his last 10 starts, posting just north of a 3 ERA in that time. For Westbrook, that’s fantastic. In fact, if his season ERA of 3.50 holds, it would be the first time he cracked a 4 ERA for a full season since 2004. Westbrook started 2012 hot; he had a 1.76 ERA through his first six starts of the year. But then he regressed to the mean, as they say, and was much more “Jake Westbrook-like” for the next month and a half. And then something happened: Westbrook caught fire again. Starting with a complete game victory in Detroit on June 20, Westbrook’s ERA dipped back below four and has stayed there. In his 11 starts since—including the gem against the Tigers—the Cards have lost three of his starts, scoring a total of five runs. Westbrook allowed six earned runs in those team losses.
One of the great injustices in baseball is watching a pitcher hurl one of his best games or put together a string of great starts and the team ends up with nothing to show for it because they couldn’t score more than one or two runs. Yes, the team on the other side of the field can have a pitcher just as good or better. And the Cards are battling more injuries, with Yadier Molina on the shelf with a stiff back and Rafael Furcal still being hampered by his own back issues. They’ve been battling tons of injuries this season, and ignoring the impact to the team by masking them as “excuses” is just absurd. So that the offense suffers peaks and valleys really isn’t a surprise at all.
But it’s tough to come to grips with the fact that the Cardinals are practically getting career years from Lohse and Westbrook and continue to be looking up at other teams currently occupying the National League playoff spots. If the Cardinals fail to make it to the postseason, the rotation will be the absolute last place anyone should lay blame.
Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.