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After a Strong Start That Prevented Ruination, the Cardinals’ Rotation Is Showing Cracks

Starting pitching has been the Cardinals’ primary strength in 2017. The rotation’s overall body of work is impressive. But look closely at the foundation and you’ll see cracks and some crumbling.

Even with a recent downturn, the St. Louis rotation ranks 4th in the majors in ERA (3.61). And the unit’s 35 quality starts are way up there, tied for 3rd in the bigs. The starting arms aren’t to blame for the team’s 30-34 record of mediocrity. The Cardinals have lost 11 times this season when the rotation delivers a quality start. There was a particularly frustrating stretch in May when the Cardinals somehow manage to come out on the losing end in six of eight quality starts. That included a skid of losing four consecutive games despite getting a QS from the rotation.

I don’t know if this is just the inevitable regression, or maybe a severe fluctuation, but the Cardinals’ rotation is in a rut right now.

In the more immediate time frame, the starters have a 5.60 ERA in the last 13 games, with the team going 4-9. The rotation supplied only two quality starts during the 13 contests.

Let’s look at a slightly larger sample size. Here are the rotation’s digits for the first 43 games of the season, followed by the numbers from the last 21 games:

First 43 games:  3.00 ERA, best in MLB. Last 21 games: 4.96 ERA, 17th over that time.

First 43 : 29 quality starts, a rate of 67.4 percent. Last 21: Only six quality starts, 28.5. percent.

First 43:  More than 6 IP in 39.5 percent of the starts. Last 21: more than 6 IP in 28 percent of the starts.

First 43: Lasted less than 6 innings 12 times, or 28 percent of the starts. Last 21: lasted less than 6 innings 11 times, or 52.3 percent of the starts.

First 43: Team record, 23-21. Last 21: Team record, 7-14.

The Cards’ current series with Milwaukee is a good example of the ominous trend. Over the first three games, STL starters supplied only 14.1 innings, and had a 6.91 ERA. The innings shortage put extra work on the bullpen, which covered 12.2 innings. To be fair, Lance Lynn didn’t allow a run in his five-inning start in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader — a 6-0 win for the Cardinals. And the second game of the doubleheader was handed to young starter Marco Gonzales, who was promoted from Memphis for the assignment. He was rocked for three homers and five runs in his 3.1 innings.

No one expected Gonzales to go into that game and shut the Brewers down for six or seven innings, but he got blasted for five extra base hits and got only 13 outs. Gonzales has to be better than that. He clearly wasn’t ready. Maybe the organization should have promoted Luke Weaver instead. But here’s my takeaway: if the Cards’ starting-pitching depth is this thin, that’s alarming.

As for Lynn, he hasn’t lasted more than 5.1 innings in his last five starts. Sure, in at least one of those starts, maybe two, you can make the case that manager Mike Matheny yanked Lynn too early. But Lynn has to cut down on the walks, be more efficient, and take on a larger share of innings.

As of late, short outings have been an issue for every Cardinals’ starter except Carlos Martinez.

In Wednesday’s 7-6 defeat, Mike Leake put the Cardinals into an early 6-0 deficit. He did recover eto last six innings to preserve the bullpen. But this was another poor start for Leake, who has given up 17 earned runs, and five homers, in his 24.2 innings  of work over his last four starts. The Cardinals have lost all four games. Leake’s ERA over his four-game slide is 6.20.

Martinez has been money, overcoming some April turbulence to pitch to a 2.11 ERA in eight starts since May 2. Martinez has seven quality starts in the eight games. He’s worked into the seventh inning (at least) in seven of the eight.

Beginning in mid-May, Wainwright presented a hopeful turnaround stretch, nicked for only one run over four starts and 26 innings. But he was beaten up by the Reds in Cincinnati last week, and labored through five innings (two earned runs) against Philadelphia. Bottom line Waino has a 4.73 ERA this season, with only four quality starts. Waino is reinventing himself as a pitcher and has made progress. And then … only 8.2 innings with an 11.42 in his next two starts.

Much is being asked of a Cardinals rotation that has done a lot of excellent work to keep this team from sinking. But if the rotation is the bulwark that prevented a Cardinals’ collapse … then what will become of the Cardinals’ season if the rotation collapses?

You know the answer.

It can be found in the depths that are way below .500.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Miklasz – Part II: With Top Of Their Lineup Set, Cardinals Need More Muscle In The Middle

  • James Berry

    To begin with, Leake isn’t the pitcher that lead the league in ERA through the first 2 months. He’s a back of the rotation pitcher that can have an exceptional outing now and then. You can say the same thing of Waino now, in his twilight years. Lynn is a #3 that can pitch, on occasion, like a #1 or #2. Wacha is a mystery pitcher. Not trustworthy enough to be thought of as anything but a hopeful turn around pitcher. The ace is far and away Carlos, but even he has his issues.

    Not sure what many believed this rotation would be, but best in the league was much too high to attain.

  • Scott Warren

    If this continues, nothing will be able to save this team.

    • Rich Rauch

      Right you are. And then, forget about pursuing a power bat at the deadline. We’ll be selling, not buying.

  • dan

    Pitching is settling into exactly what it is on paper. Offense trudging along with too many bad at-bats and no situational approach — just as it was on paper. Pretty much the same team as last year with no defensive upgrade whatsoever. The question is, will finishing 10 games under .500 in a bad division be enough to bring meaningful change to the organization? Probably not unless the Cubs take off and we end up 20 games out or so. Then…maybe….but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  • geoff

    They are starting to play a bit better. Carpenter isn’t dropping is back shoulder as much and he is starting to hit line drives because his swing is shorter. Fowler is a good player and he is showing it. The bullpen is still a bit wacky. The starters will come around fine. This is not a juggernaut team but if they figure out that there is no shame in hitting line drives, they will become much more entertaining. Mo got rid of those middle of the lineup bats when he let Holliday walk and basically threw Adams in the nearest dumpster. Maybe Mo was right when he evaluated Grichuk as being a better ballplayer than Holliday. He doesn’t look correct right now. Long season….if the Cards are over .500 at the break, they will be in it.

  • JeremyR

    CMart is the only legitimate quality starting pitcher they have.

    Leake is just reverting to the mean. I was hoping it would be more gradual. But he’s simply not a good pitcher. Waino is old. It remains to be seen if he is crafty enough to keep pitching.

    Lynn is generally an above average pitcher, but he’s still coming off of injury and won’t be full strength until next year. Wacha’s injury makes him an enigma.

    As to Weaver making the start instead of Gonzalez, Weaver started on Saturday. They could have pushed him back I suppose, but he pitched poorly on Saturday, leaving after only 2 1/3 innings.

    • SW

      Lynn is typically above average….until the all star break. If memory serves, his second halves are not good. May be a good sell high candidate this season.

  • ken

    B-b-b-but Lynn’s a bulldog!!

  • James Berry

    It’s getting close to the only question that needs to be asked is, who is traded for prospects?

  • Tim

    with 13 pitchers why don’t the cardinals designate 3 pitchers as the pitcher/reliever of the day. Lyon, Gonzales and maybe Wacha or Weaver fit this bill. Typically a designated pitcher pitches every three starts after the starter and is the bridge till the closer. Even after designating three pitchers cardinals will have 4 or 5 left in the bullpen in case of emergency.

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