A week or two ago it seemed like the St. Louis Cardinals had no place on their roster — much less their starting rotation — for veteran starters Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright as the hurlers near their return from injury.
But, suddenly, the robust Redbirds rotation seems unusually shaky. Short starts have led to an over-used bullpen and St. Louis can use all the pitching help it can get.
John Gant could only make it through 4 1/3 innings Tuesday in Washington. He allowed but two hits — it was the five walks that killed him and helped turn a 4-run St. Louis lead into a tie game. On Sunday, Luke Weaver only managed four innings allowing eight base runners including five walks. When the club starts well lately, it finishes poorly. Bud Norris has cooled off in the closer role and played a big part in two unfortunate losses in the last few days.
On social media channels, it seemed as if a lot of so-called Cardinals fans would just as soon see Wainwright dropped off on a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean as see him get another chance at the starting rotation. How short are their memories to forget how great Wainwright has been when he’s healthy? If they’re skeptical about his ability to get healthy, doesn’t he at least deserve a chance to try in what could be the last month of his career? This isn’t a charity case. It’s a guy who has earned respect and, if he says he thinks he can get people out, I think we ought to believe him.
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The Cardinals need Wainwright and Wacha to be good. Even if the likes of Gant and Weaver can help St. Louis get to October baseball, is it fair to count on inexperienced, young players to carry the burden of facing some of the best starting pitchers in the game at the start of a vital series? One thing is for sure about Wainwright: He’s going to give you every single ounce of what he has, whether he’s at 100 percent or 10 percent.
Wacha, while he’s had trouble staying healthy over the course of a long season, has been dominant in his career in the playoffs. I’ll never forget his rookie year when the Cardinals were forced to start him in a playoff elimination game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on the road. Opposing fans taunted him by chanting his name. But Wacha didn’t break, helping the Cardinals eventually win the series. It’s a shame Wacha’s had shoulder trouble because I think he might have been one of the great St. Louis pitchers of the last quarter century if he was able to reach his full potential.
Carlos Martinez has been effective in the bullpen since his return from a second stint on the disabled list. However, his best contribution will more likely come in the last inning of games as opposed to the first. After coughing up a much-needed win Monday, Bud Norris remained on the bench Tuesday in a two-run games as Jordan Hicks warmed for the save opportunity. It seemed to become a moot point when Yadier Molina hit a two-strike, two-out grand slam to break the game open. Dominic Leone remained in the game after that to start the bottom of the ninth inning and, when he couldn’t finish the job, John Brebbia got a chance. When he couldn’t do it, either, the team had to re-heat Hicks to finish the game.
It was pretty ridiculous that Hicks, who might have started the ninth with the bases empty and a two-run lead, instead had to come into an 11-8 game with the tying run at the plate. But that’s the way things have gone since the wheels feel off the pitching staff. If nothing else, putting Wainwright and Hicks into the competition, forcing the two weakest pitchers on the staff to the sidelines, is going to make this team better.
It’s obviously lately that the starting pitching is the straw that stirs the Cardinals’s drink. The defense is much improved with Harrison Bader in centerfield and Tyler O’Neill in right — or at least when Jose Martinez is in right instead of at first base. But it doesn’t help having a team of Gold Glovers when the other club is walking eight or times a night in between hitting balls over the fence.
The offense is more balanced than it used to be. But it can’t put up seven or eight runs every night. And when the players feel compelled to try, that’s when it seems that they get off their game and the strikeouts start to accumulate again.
Speaking of Jose Martinez — or strikeouts, for that matter — he seems like he is overdue for a break. The usually reliable batsman has been doing a lot of fishing lately and has left a lot of important runs on base. I don’t know if he’s guessing pitches or if he’s just trying to hit home runs every swing. But he’s become easily exploitable in clutch situations. It seems like he might just need a mental break to get his approach sorted out.