St. Louis Cardinals: The Starting Rotation Has Been Phenomenal Thus Far

Apr 8, 2017; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52) pitches to a Cincinnati Reds batter during the fifth inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2017; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52) pitches to a Cincinnati Reds batter during the fifth inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Cardinals are five games into the 2017 season and already have a number of questions and concerns. However, the starting rotation could not have performed better thus far.

The St. Louis Cardinals opened the 2017 season with the rotation of Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Mike Leake, and Michael Wacha. Without a doubt, there were a ton of concerns from the fans and management about this rotation and the success of the team.

Martinez is arguably the only pitcher that deserved full confidence heading into this season and his Opening Day start against the Chicago Cubs only strengthened the support behind him. He pitched an absolute gem over 7.1 innings and recorded 10 strikeouts while issuing 0 walks and allowing 6 hits. Martinez shut out the Cubs lethal lineup and unfortunately was not given a win after the bullpen lost the 1-0 lead the Cardinals had when Martinez exited the game.

Wainwright was next and proved to be effective in his 35-year old season. He faced the Cubs and managed to limit them to 2 runs over 3 hits after five innings. Waino featured a sharp curve and some excellent control over his cut fastball to keep them off balance and get 6 strikeouts. I previously reviewed his start more in-depth but the big takeaway for Wainwright was that he looked good but needs to improve on his efficiency if he wants to go deeper into games.

Relying on the bullpen hasn’t been successful despite it being a team strength on paper and Wainwright going deeper into games will be key for the St. Louis Cardinals going forward. He may not be the “ace” he once was, but his first start was a great sign that he is still a very effective pitcher against a top-tier offensive group. Wainwright’s mission this season was to silence all the doubters after a poor 2016 and he is on the right track despite getting the loss.

Lynn is going to be a huge story for the St. Louis Cardinals this season. Not only is he returning from Tommy John surgery and missing all of the 2016 season, but he is also going to be a free agent after this season. He will need to prove to everyone that he is not only healthy but that is he still the consistent, productive pitcher he was prior to being injured.

He’s off to a great start as well though considering he faced the Cubs in Game 3 of the 2017 season opening series and held them to 2 runs like Wainwright. Lynn pitched 5.1 innings and showed a lively fastball with mid-90s velocity which is a good sign. His velocity was a bit down during spring training and that is often expected for someone returning from Tommy John surgery but he bounced back in his first start of the regular season.

Lynn struck out 4 and only walked 1 batter but allowed 5 hits. That proved to be enough for the Cubs to take the rubber match in the series. Meanwhile, Lynn can use that strong start as something to build off and if he continues to pitch like that, the St. Louis Cardinals will be in good shape.

Related Story: A Few Takeaways After Facing the Cubs

Mike Leake had the second best performance of the starting pitchers in his start against the Cincinnati Reds but unfortunately, received absolutely no run support and was issued a loss. He pitched eight innings and only allowed one run while striking out six, walking one, and surrendering six hits. His control was fantastic and he held the Reds’ lineup back by forcing them to make weak contact that often resulted in ground balls.

Leake also happened to be one of two batters to record a hit while the Reds marched out a rookie left handed pitcher that gave the Cardinals batters a hard time. Like Martinez, Leake put up an incredible performance but due to the rest of the team not performing, he was not rewarded for it. Leake, unlike Martinez, was given a loss despite only giving up one run.

If this team wants to succeed, they’ll need to score runs when Leake is on the mound. A 1-0 deficit with a pitch-to-contact pitcher like Leake on the mound is a gift and the Cardinals should be kicking themselves for not capitalizing on the situation. Leake has a career ERA of 3.97 and is more of an innings eater than an ace. Whenever he limits a team to two runs or less, those are MUST wins and the Cardinals didn’t do that.

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Lastly, Michael Wacha made his start against the Reds on April 8th and built up some confidence in a convincing win. He came into this season originally as a huge question mark. With Alex Reyes seemingly ready, Wacha’s spot on the rotation was being threatened but Reyes then suffered a season ending injury.

Wacha himself has been battling shoulder injuries for the past two years. Last year he struggled mightily when he was on the mound and was greatly effected by said injuries. This offseason he spent as much time as possible trying to strengthen his shoulder in hopes of being fully healthy and capable.

On Saturday versus the Reds he looked more than capable flashing a fastball that hit 97 mph and a deadly change-up. He relied on his fastball heavily and it resulted in him only allowing 3 hits and 1 run but he struck out 6 in 6 innings pitched. His control looked solid as he attacked the strike zone against a weak team and he only gave up one walk. Wacha’s success will come off that fastball-changeup combo and it looked quite good in his victory against Cincinnati.

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Overall, this team’s success will largely rely on pitching. The rotation could either make or break this team’s chances of a playoff berth and it remains to be seen whether they will continue what they’ve shown in their first five games. However, in those first five games, these guys did extremely well and likely out-performed many of our expectations. Hopefully, that continues as this team battles to return to the playoffs.