St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Wainwright tabbed for Opening Day start

Feb 18, 2016; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (50) walks to the practice field at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2016; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (50) walks to the practice field at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

St. Louis Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright will get the ball for his fourth straight Opening Day start on April 3 against the Pirates.

St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny wasted no time announcing this morning that Adam Wainwright will indeed get the ball for the Cardinals on Opening Day against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Surprised? Me neither.

This is really a no-brainer decision for Matheny, and he said as much to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

"“He’s our guy. No doubt about it. We have to see how spring goes. Any setbacks, anything that takes us off normal course, but this guy is the leader of our staff. He means so much to our club in a lot of regards. He leads well. Let’s just watch how it goes.”"

When Wainwright takes the ball against the Pirates on April 3, it will be his fourth straight Opening Day start and his fifth overall for St Louis. This news got me wondering — how has Wainwright fared in Opening Day starts in his career?

Well, over his four Opening Day starts, Wainwright is 2-1 with a 1.87 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 28 strikeouts in 24.1 innings pitched. Again, it’s no surprise that the ace will be on the mound once again for the Cardinals’ first game of the season.

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Still, Wainwright’s WHIP on opening day starts was a bit alarming to me, but the spike really comes from the rough start he had against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the opener of the 2013 season. That day, Wainwright yielded four runs (three earned) on 11 hits as St. Louis went on to lose 6-2 in Arizona. If you take out that start against the D-Backs, Wainwright’s opening day WHIP sits at 1.16, which is pretty much exactly on par with his career 1.159 WHIP.

A great surprise I found while digging into these stats is that Wainwright has traditionally racked up the strikeouts on Opening Day. The Cardinals ace holds a 10.5 K/9 on opening day starts — well above his career 7.6 strikeouts-per-nine. Common sense would chalk this up to the fact that Wainwright is likely much more rested and ready to go for the first start of the season and probably even has more giddy-up on his fastball. Not to mention, it takes much longer for hitters to get their timing down and be Major League ready come Opening Day than it does the pitchers.

Age hasn’t slowed down Wainwright’s strikeout success on Opening Day, either. In 2014, Wainwright punched out nine Cincinnati Reds hitters and threw seven scoreless innings with three hits en route to the win. And who could forget last season when the Cardinals’ ace derailed the Chicago Cubs’ early-season hype train by striking out six Cubs batters across six scoreless innings for his first win of the year?

If there’s one red flag specifically concerning Wainwright making the Opening Day start this season, it’s who he will be facing. While Wainwright is 11-6 in his career against the Pirates, he still holds a 4.29 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP against the Buccos. That isn’t in a small sample size either, as Wainwright has thrown 153 innings against the Pirates throughout his career. What’s worse, the 34-year old holds a bloated 5.15 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP in 71.2 IP at PNC Park — where he’ll be pitching come Opening Day this season.

Wainwright’s very first Opening Day start was actually against the Pirates in 2009. In that game, he lasted 5.1 innings yielding two earned runs on four hits, five walks, and seven strikeouts for a no-decision. So, I’m not too concerned that the Cardinals’ ace won’t answer the bell this season, if he is indeed healthy and ready to go, he’s proven as much throughout his 10-year career.

I’m more interested in knowing how the rest of the rotation will shake out at the start of the 2016 season. That answer will likely come at the end of Spring Training. I see the Cardinals going with Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia and Mike Leake as the rotation, one through five, for the majority of the 2016 campaign.

However, Goold brought up a great point today in his story  that “the Cardinals’ opening week schedule allows for them to go with four starters and let a fifth starter, say Carlos Martinez, get additional work in Spring Training or ease into the regular season.”

Indeed, if Martinez needs a bit more time to get ready, Goold’s proposal is a smart option. But so far early on in Spring Training, Martinez has said that the shoulder strain tightness he was shut down for last September is now gone.

Next: Matt Holliday power present at day two of Spring Training

For now, Cardinals fans should relish in the fact that their ace will once again take the ball come Opening Day. As I’ve already said, I believe this season will be a Cy Young worthy performance from Wainwright. We’ll see how it shakes out.