It’s become painful to watch one of my baseball heroes play.
Adam Wainwright is one of my all-time favorite St. Louis Cardinals.
His body of work shows he is a winner who has been at his best in big games. He’s a dedicated professional who isn’t going to stop until he has done everything he can to be his absolute best.
Fans can’t really ask for anything more than that.
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He’s also a great leader on and off the field and he is a darn nice guy to boot.
Those factors easily put Wainwright onto the list of my top 10 favorite Redbirds of all-time. Considering how many great players have worn the Birds on the Bat, standing out from the crowd is quite an accomplishment.
That’s why it hurts so much to watch Wainwright bounce back and forth between mediocre and bad for the first half of the 2016 season.
I have been waiting to see Wainwright turn the corner after a disappointing start to the year. He’s said repeatedly that he thinks the problem is mechanical and, therefore, it can be corrected.
But, at 34 years old and after several serious injuries that could have been career threateners, maybe this is just the new normal.
I admit, I am starting to lose faith. (Although I hope to be decisively proven to be wrong.)
As we near the midpoint on the 2016 season, Wainwright is 6-5 with a miserable 5.04 earned run average. He often seems as if he’s on the verge of a breakthrough. But then, like last night in Kansas City, he can’t make the put away pitch to get out of trouble.
Wainwright allowed the Royals’ all six of their runs with two outs. The fact that the defense let him down in the first played a role. But he’s been uncharacteristically unable to bounce back from setbacks he used to laugh off.
Two more good pitches and he may have left that game without giving up a run. Instead, I had to turn away from the TV because I couldn’t stand watching a legend be ordinary.
Those key pitches have been Wainwright’s trademark dating back to his earliest days as a major leaguer when he was pressed into service as the St. Louis Cardinals closer.
It’s unfair to expect a guy to throw like he did when he was 24 when he’s 34. That’s why I was so adamant that the Cardinals go out and get another front line starting pitcher over the off-season.
There are a lot of guys who are decent starters. But there are few who are shoe-ins to be the Game 1 starter in a playoff series. Without Wainwright, I’m not sure that the Cardinals have a guy they can turn to in a must-win game.
Scary signs about Wainwright’s season:
▪ Wainwright has allowed more hits than innings pitched so far this year for the first time since his first season as a starter in the majors, 2007.
▪ His 1.36 baserunners per inning ratio this season is 25 percent higher than it was for his previous three seasons and is the worst of his career besides the 1.5 he allowed in a total of two games in 2005.
▪ While Wainwright has a winning record, he’s required a ton of help to get one game over the .500 mark. The Birds have scored six or more runs in seven of his 16 starts -- including a 9-8 loss, a 12-10 win and a 12-7 win -- and nine or more runs in five of them.
On the bright side, Wainwright has turned in a few gems along the way. He beat Colorado 2-0 May 18, he beat Cincinnati 3-2 in their phone booth of a park June 9 and he pitched 13 1/3 innings in two huge victories over the Chicago Cubs.
But it seems like he certainly has less margin for error than he had in the past. Wainwright can’t dominate with his fastball like he once did and it seems that his curve ball has abandoned him at time.
Hopefully, someday soon the mysterious missing component of Wainwright’s mechanics will click into place and he’ll be a top 10 NL pitcher again.
But I am afraid it’s unfair, at this stage of his career, to put the burden of being the team ace on No. 50’s shoulders.