Last season, the Cardinals had the best starting rotation in baseball with a starters ERA of 2.99 — the only team in the Majors to post a sub 3.00 starters ERA. With the departure of John Lackey to the Cubs and Lance Lynn lost for a year to Tommy John surgery, is it too lofty of an expectation to think that the Cardinals can do it again?
I don’t think so. Here’s how the starting rotation should shake out:
No. 1: Adam Wainwright
The ace is back.
After his freak Achilles injury last season, Adam Wainwright will once again join the Cardinals staff and return as the No. 1 starter. All signs so far have pointed to Wainwright being fine, but we will have a better idea of that once games begin next week and he gets some live action on the mound.
Waino has a chip on his shoulder and he’s out to prove the critics wrong. Those who say he’s injury prone forget that the the Achilles injury was really only Wainwright’s second big injury of his career — the first being Tommy John surgery in 2011.
Sure, the Cardinals lost Lackey, but they get their ace back this season and a guy who has finished in the in the top three of the Cy Young voting four times since 2009. Last season’s injury will be a blessing in disguise for the 34-year old as he saved a ton of innings on that arm, too.
I expect Wainwright to post Cy Young worthy numbers this season and once again lead a dominant Cardinals pitching staff.
No. 2: Carlos Martinez
In three short years Carlos Martinez could very well move up to No. 1 in the rotation and be the Cardinals future ace. That’s how good “Baby Pedro” is.
Martinez was brilliant last season in his first go at joining the Cardinals rotation full time, and the numbers show it. Despite a shoulder injury that shut him down last season, Martinez has been back on the mound early on in Spring Training and says that his shoulder feels good and ready to go. Let’s hope that is truly the case. The Cardinals badly missed Martinez in the NLDS against the Cubs last season.
I expect Martinez, if healthy, to eclipse 200 innings pitched this season and improve on a walk rate that is still a bit high. The future is bright for the young power pitcher, and Cardinals fans should enjoy watching the emotional 24-year old on the mound for many years to come in St. Louis.
No. 3: Michael Wacha
Michael Wacha had a fairly solid season last year winning 17 games for the Cardinals, but the right-hander ran out of gas late in the second half.
The 2016 season will prove to be crucial for the 24-year old in seeing if he is really who we thought he was when he stormed onto the scene in the 2013 postseason. The bad news is Wacha’s ERA, WHIP and FIP have all steadily risen over the last three seasons.
The good news is Wacha is still young. He doesn’t turn 25 until July and last season was his first full turn in the rotation, so he can certainly still reach his potential. Let’s just hope it happens sooner rather than later. It won’t be too long before the Cardinals will be turning to Wacha and Martinez to lead this starting rotation.
No. 4: Jaime Garcia
We all know how this story goes. When Jaime Garcia is healthy, he can be phenomenal. Last season the lefty tossed 129.2 innings — the most he’s thrown since 2011 (194.2 IP). His season ended on a sour note though as he only lasted two innings in the Game 2 start agains the Cubs in the NLDS as he tried to make the start while dealing with a stomach virus. Still, the lefty went 10-6 with a stellar 2.43 ERA, 3.00 FIP and a 1.05 WHIP last season.
But can he stay healthy? That’s always the biggest question with Garcia, and will continue to be the case in 2016. The 29-year old will need to post a fully healthy season and dominant numbers for the Cardinals to pick up his $12M team option for 2017. If he can’t stay healthy, this could be the final season we see Garcia in a Cardinals uniform.
No. 5: Mike Leake
Mike Leake is the Cardinals newest addition, and not too shabby for a fifth starter.
I wrote at length about Leake a little while back. Check that out for a more in depth look at the newest Cardinals hurler. I expect a career-year for the 28-year old. Plus, Leake has solid numbers agains the NL Central, more specifically the Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates, which is probably the biggest difference between him and Lance Lynn.
Next: The Bullpen