By Joe Commesso
No Adam Wainwright? No Problem.
Even with the loss of their number one pitcher, the St. Louis Cardinals have found ways to excel in a tough division. Excelling may be an understatement, as the team sits comfortably in first place in the NL Central (51-26), seven games ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates. On Saturday, April 25, many Cardinals fans abandoned all hope for a World Series run when they saw their ace tear his achilles tendon. Adam Wainwright has been the anchor in the Card’s rotation for years, as well as a Cy Young contender. Last year Wainwright was dominant, sporting a 2.38 ERA and a 20-9 record. The Cardinals lost in the NLCS last year, leaving them hungry for redemption in 2015. Despite the major setback of losing their best pitcher, the resilient Cardinals aren’t letting that stop them.
With the loss of their ace, the rest of the pitching staff has really picked up the slack, posting an MLB best 2.61 team ERA. Michael Wacha, who was limited to only 107 innings last year due to a shoulder injury, has arguably taken over the “ace” roll of the club. The young right-hander is 10-3 with a 2.77 ERA thus far. Another young arm, Carlos Martinez, has perhaps been the most pleasant surprise for the Cardinals club. The Dominican Native struggled last year, winning just two games with an ERA over four. Like all the other pitchers in this forceful rotation, Martinez has stepped his game up, winning nine games with a 2.80 earned run average. Lance Lynn has once again proven himself as a reliable pitcher, giving his team a chance to win every time he is on the bump. John Lackey’s value comes from his stamina and endurance. Lackey leads the team in innings pitched with 96.2. As if this dominant pitching staff wasn’t enough to bring a World Series title to Missouri, there are now reports surfacing that Adam Wainwright could return for the playoffs. The Cardinal’s ace is pushing himself to return earlier than expected, saying “I’ll do whatever it takes to pitch in October.”
51 wins isn’t too bad for the Cardinals considering they have scored 309 runs, placing them seventeenth in the majors. That statistic once again attests to the marvelous job the pitching staff has done this year. The Cardinal’s offense is successfully getting runners on base, for they have the fifth best batting average and on base percentage in baseball, but they struggle in knocking those runners in. With the slapdash offensive stats for the Cardinals, how are they supporting their pitchers with runs? Plate discipline and timely hitting. The Cardinals have walked 232 times and have been hit by 25 pitches so far. These players know that they do not have the most stacked lineup in the game, so they improvise. Patience at the plate allows the hitters to see more pitches, get more fastballs and draw more walks. This squad struggles to get into scoring position, but once they do, guys like Jhonny Peralta and Matt Carpenter portray the importance of timely hitting.
The pitching staff, although commendable, is not among the league leaders in strikeouts. That being said, opposing teams are putting the bat on the ball, forcing the defense to make the plays. Johnny Peralta, the power hitting shortstop, has been flashing the leather all year; thus earning him a .989 fielding percentage. Catcher Yadier Molina is leading all MLB catchers in put-outs with 532. The pitchers in fact are helping themselves out as well. Michael Wacha and John Lackey are both listed as league leaders for put-outs by a pitcher. Despite a few defensive blemishes, the Cardinals have done a solid job of making the plays behind their pitchers.
The St. Louis Cardinals are out to make a statement this year. With the absence of Wainwright and questions regarding Wacha’s health, many people would have doubted that the team would be where it is today. Wacha has answered all questions and concerns by displaying an All-Star caliber first half of the season. The rest of the pitching staff has risen to the occasion as well, exhibiting themselves as the main reasons that this team is winning. The Cardinal’s defense has complimented the pitching with their solid play. The pitchers can let the batter put the ball in play with complete confidence that the play will be made. Even though the Card’s offense isn’t exactly on fire at the moment, they are still doing their job and giving their pitchers a lead to work with. In the face of adversity, the St. Louis Cardinals are finding different ways to win games. Their resilient nature and talent constitutes them being a major threat when the postseason comes rolling around.