The St. Louis Cardinals lack starters and only have themselves to blame

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ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 3: Michael Wacha #52 of the St. Louis Cardinals sits alone in the dugout against the Pittsburgh Pirates after the sixth inning at Busch Stadium on June 3, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 3: Michael Wacha #52 of the St. Louis Cardinals sits alone in the dugout against the Pittsburgh Pirates after the sixth inning at Busch Stadium on June 3, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
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The St. Louis Cardinals were premature in dismissing Lynn, Leake, and Gonzales, pitchers who’d be a huge upgrade over most of the team’s current starters.

The St. Louis Cardinals could sure use Lance Lynn right now. Or Marco Gonzales. Or even Mike Leake.

It’s often said, “You can never have too much starting pitching,” but Cardinals management must disagree. Over the last few years, the club has waved bye-bye to a series of solid starting pitchers, including Lynn, allowed to walk in 2017, Leake, traded for a minor leaguer in 2017, and Gonzales, traded for Tyler O’Neill in 2017.

Right now, the Rangers’ Lynn (14-7), the Mariners’ Gonzales (12-9) and the Diamondbacks’ Leake (9-8) have as many wins (35) as the Cardinals’ five primary starters. Lynn has 17 quality starts, Leake 13, and Gonzales 12 while Miles Mikolas leads the Redbirds with 12. As of Aug. 7th, Lynn was fifth in all of baseball with a 5.8 WAR. The Cardinals’ five primary starters, Jack Flaherty, Mikolas, Dakota Hudson, Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha had a combined WAR of just 4.7.

Chances are you shed no tears when Lynn, Gonzales and Leake hit the road. A steady middle-of-the-order guy, Lynn was on the wrong side of 30. Leake was just 7-12 with a 4.21 ERA in his last St. Louis season. Gonzales had missed a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery and only threw 88 to 91 mph. He didn’t project as anything all that special.

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Why keep Leake and why pay Lynn when there were younger and cheaper arms on the farm? That’s what the front office must have been thinking. With Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Alex Reyes, and Hudson in the minors, the Cards were flush with starting pitching. So go ahead, trade Leake. Trade Gonzales. Let Lynn walk. Those guys were just blocking the youngsters.

That’s one way of looking at it. Plus, the kids were cheaper. With the Cardinals, that’s always a factor.

The Lynn, Leake and Gonzales dismissals can be justified individually, but not all three of them. Yes, the Cards couldn’t know that Carlos Martinez and Wacha would regress due to injuries, and that Reyes would be constantly hurt, and that Hudson would have a hard time throwing strikes in the majors.

Still, bad things happen to good pitchers. That’s nothing new. The last thing a team with a win-now mentality should do is continually flip competent, proven starters for iffy prospects. Or let pitchers go.

Let’s be clear. No one saw Lynn having a year like this. A year ago, he went 10-10 with a 4.77 ERA with the Twins and Yankees. Leake has pitched like a generic starter for much of his career, although his current 1.9 WAR would be second to Flaherty’s 2.4 on this year’s Cardinals staff. All those harder-throwing, higher-ceiling minor leaguers made Gonzales look expendable.

Right now, it’s painful watching some of the Cardinals starters. With Wacha and Hudson, every inning feels like a struggle. Wainwright has just eight quality starts this year, less than half as many as Lynn.

A year ago, the club pulled Hudson (4-1, 2.63 ERA), Austin Gomber (6-2, 4.44 ERA), and Daniel Ponce de Leon (0-2, 2.73 ERA) from the minors for stretch-drive help, but there appear to be no such answers this year. Hudson’s in the rotation, Ponce de Leon’s back in Memphis after struggling as a big-league starter, and Gomber’s hurt. There are no kid heroes to save the day.

Next. The Trade Deadline Blowback. dark

It’s understandable that Cardinals management, thinking they had a surfeit of solid starters, traded arms for bats. But it feels like hubris when a ballclub does that over and over. Did John Mozeliak think they’d never run out of majors-ready pitching prospects? Well, the Cardinals have. For now. And they only have themselves to blame.

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