Full Rotation: The St. Louis Cardinals and starters in the NL-Central

llevin
ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 27: Tyler Lyons
ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 27: Tyler Lyons /
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St. Louis Cardinals
CINCINNATI, OH – SEPTEMBER 20: Luke Weaver /

Let’s start our exploration with our favorite St. Louis Cardinals.

Anticipated Starters: Carlos Martinez, Luke Weaver, Michael Wacha, Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright
In the Wings: Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty, Tyler Lyons, John Gant and more.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: the top of this rotation is not comparable to the top rotations in baseball. No one, not even CMart, has proven to be Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw. Domination is not the hallmark of this group. Depth both in and beyond the starting five is its key.

Don’t get me wrong, the potential for greatness is there. Martinez has shown at times that his wild combo of seemingly indefatigable speed and every-which-way breaking stuff can confound any lineup. But last year was a marked regression after brilliant 2015 and 2016 campaigns, based on which he was seemingly poised to join all but the most select starters in baseball. That didn’t happen.

Could it? Sure, and we’ll be giddy if it does. Because after Alex Reyes returns to starting form, most likely mid-season to avoid the post-surgery travails of the likes of Stephen Strasburg, the St. Louis Cardinals could have a deadly one-two punch. Reyes’ upside is highly touted, and even if he starts out the year in the bullpen as expected, we’ll get glimpses of what the future could bring.

The other option for dominance is if either the emerging Weaver or the rebounding Wacha excels beyond expectations. The former, other than his final two starts, showcased the essence of power pitching, pounding the ball down and with mid-90s velocity. If his maturation continues apace, watch out; a Lance Lynn-like growth curve is not out of the question.

Wacha is the intriguing one to me, though. He brought his performance back to a reasonable level after his shortened 2016 campaign (which mirrored his 2014 one), and he got his strikeouts up and both his ERA and FIP down. A repeat of 2017 for Wacha would make for some very pleasant mid-rotation solidity.

Mikolas was scouted in the Pacific Rim the last couple years not only by the Cardinals but the dreaded Chicago Cubs, and the Cards were able to win this competition for a whole lot less than what the Cubs shelled out to grab Jason Heyward from St. Louis. And if the righty’s performance dovetails with what the scouts saw in Japan, we are in for some significant depth in the front four of this group.

You’ll notice I didn’t include Wainwright in the above-mentioned group. That is because other than for some limited stretches, Waino has not performed with the flair and strength that he exhibited for most of his career through 2014. Despite the positive rhetoric spewing from the team, one cannot give a four-year free pass in assessing future performance.

I’m fine with Waino having a place in the rotation if he can beat out the other competitors for the slot, and all things being equal, his amazing career merits him the benefit of the doubt. But rarely are all things equal, so we’ll have to see what February brings.

Where I started with this group was depth, and the ability to slot in capable arms if anyone gets hurt or has a major hiccup. We saw the first of Flaherty at this level last year, and he just wasn’t ready, at least in the sense of being able to dominate or consistently perform well at this level. His second shot should provide a marked improvement, but I see Memphis at the outset.

Gant and Lyons both have the potential to handle a multiplicity of roles, in my opinion. Bullpenning as the bridge between starters and the back-enders; spot starting; mop-up roles, or stretching out to slip into a needed rotation spot if something bad happens.

These guys may be punished in a way for their versatility. With Lyons out of options, we won’t likely see him at AAA absent a surprise; Gant could remain down to start and be ready in case of a major-league falter.

These aren’t all the guys, of course. Dakota Hudson’s been an oft-mentioned trade chip but he could remain in the Memphis starting mix. Mike Mayers hasn’t handled his brief spots in the bigs well at all. Austin Gomber impressed well at AA Springfield, with a strikeout per inning and a fine WHIP, so we’ll see where this year takes him at the next level up.

And Sandy Alcantara is gone, the necessary chip in the Marcell Ozuna deal.

In short, the expected major league rotation for the Redbirds gets a solid B, with the prospect for a B+ if all cylinders kick in. And on the depth side, the team gets an A- for its strong insurance value against the unknown.

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