As the St. Louis Cardinals continue to fight the injury bug, I am becoming intrigued about the possibility of one of the club’s biggest stars making a miraculous comeback.
It’s been known for weeks that ace starting pitcher Adam Wainwright is intent on returning to the rotation in time for the post-season.
But, at least up to now, general manager John Mozeliak has been skeptical about the idea in interviews. On Sunday he admitted on the radio that he’s been watching Wainwright on the comeback trail and the pitcher “looked pretty good.”
It would be incredible to get the boost of adding a top pitcher for the playoffs. Sure, the Cardinals have the best rotation in baseball even without their ace by most statistical measures. But, while St. Louis can roll out a pitcher with a better than average chance to win seven times a week, they don’t have a true ace who can be counted on to put the team on its back during a short series as Chris Carpenter did in 2011.
John Lackey has the most post-season experience among St. Louis starters. But he’s done it as a two or three starter in previous post seasons. He’s never had to be The Guy. Michael Wacha had a nice playoff showing in 2013. But he’s still very young and I don’t know if it’s fair to put the pressure on him at this point of his career to have to pitch the toughest assignments in the playoffs.
Wainwright is tough as nails. With the exception of last year when he tried to pitch through an elbow issue, he’s been a playoff stud dating back to 2006 when he pitched outside of his normal role as the Cardinals closer.
The problem with a potential return for Wainwright is that, if it’s going to happen, it needs to start right away.
Wainwright hasn’t pitched since April 25 and he’d have to start all over in terms of building up his endurance.
Unfortunately, he’s not expected to start pitching off a mound until the beginning of September which means a minor league rehab assignment is out of the question. So any real game action he could get would have to happen in the big leagues, potentially in games that matter as the Redbirds try to hold off the Cubs and Pirates.
Wainwright could potentially pitch out of the bullpen. But I’m not sure the reward is worth the risk.
The Cardinals not only have an established closer in Trevor Rosenthal, they are getting great results from lefty set-up man Kevin Siegrist and they recently traded for not one - but two - former closers in Steve Cishek and Jonathan Broxton. Add in the facts that one of the starters will likely be bumped to the bullpen and that Jordan Walden could be back at some point and it seems the Birds are well-stocked with relievers.
So they shouldn’t risk a potential serious injury to their ace by exposing him in an unnecessary way.
If he’s 100 percent healthy and he could make a difference in the rotation, that would be amazing. But, short of that, let’s make sure he’s ready to go in 2016.