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Wainwright, DeJong and Gant are helping the St. Louis Cardinals dominate in 2019

Can Adam Wainwright finish his career strong in 2019?

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright has struggled with injuries since 2015, but he's hoping for a strong season in 2019.
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St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright has struggled with injuries since 2015, but he's hoping for a strong season in 2019.

For all the complaining about Adam Wainwright being washed up in spring training, the undeniable fact is that, a month into the season, the former ace is again the best pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals rotation.

With 6 1/3 strong innings Tuesday, he lowered his earned run average to 3.73 for the season, the lowest among Redbirds starters. He and Michael Wacha are the only members of the rotation who have given up fewer hits than they’ve notched innings pitched. His only really bad outing came in his most recent home start when he gave up eight hits in three innings against the New York Mets. But the defense was pretty horrid that night, causing him to get strung out and to make a lot of pitches he shouldn’t have had to make.

Otherwise, Wainwright has been more consistent than he was in any of the past few seasons. The last couple of years he might look brilliant for two or three innings, but then he’d hit the wall. This year, he’s pitched at least six innings in four of his last five starts. He pitched four innings in the first game of the season, but it’s not unusual at that point of the year for starters to make an early exit, so I don’t really count that one.

I’m not saying that anyone is going to confuse the lanky right-hander for the 2009-10 version of himself. But he’s certainly justified the Cardinals in taking a chance on him for a greatly reduced salary. I’d take 60 percent of Adam Wainwright over 100 percent of a lot of major league pitchers. In addition to his bulldog attitude and his physical skill, it’s a great idea to expose Wainwright to Dakota Hudson, Jack Flaherty and Jordan Hicks as much as possible.

I hope Wainwright isn’t the best St. Louis pitcher by the second half of the season. If that happens, it means other people aren’t doing their job. But every inning he gives them at this point of his career is a bonus.

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Paul DeJong has been the best piece of the Cardinals lineup in the first month of the 2019 season. Jeff Roberson AP

Paul DeJong is the St. Louis Cardinals best position player

In addition to an unexpected candidate being the the best starter for the Birds, their best position player hasn’t been flashy acquisition Paul Goldschmidt or even productive holdover Marcell Ozuna. It’s Paul DeJong who seems incapable of hitting anything less than a double these days. With a .342 batting average, DeJong has 19 extra base hits. Ozuna is hitting about 70 points less and has four fewer extra base hits. That’s no knock on the left fielder. As excellent as he has been, DeJong has just been better.

It takes production from unexpected places to take teams to another level. While I think the Redbirds were counting on DeJong to be a solid contributor, I don’t know that anyone thought he’d hit well over .300 while cutting down his prolific strikeouts. I still think the Cardinals would be better off with DeJong batting second and Goldschmidt, the veteran slugger making the big bucks, batting third. The argument is that Matt Carpenter and Goldschmidt are supposed to be the big on-base percentage guys. Carpenter is struggling, with the eighth-lowest on-base mark among St. Louis regulars if you consider Jose Martinez and Dexter Fowler both to be regulars. Goldschmidt and Carpenter are both on a pace to strike out about 180 times — that’s each, not together. I guess as long as they’re winning, manager Mike Shildt shouldn’t mess with success.

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Where would the St. Louis Cardinals be without several stellar outings from John Gant? Jeff Roberson AP

John Gant pitching well out of St. Louis Cardinals bullpen

All due respect to Hicks, who has been nasty this season, where would St. Louis be without John Gant in the bullpen?

He’s appeared in 16 games already with an earned run average of less than 1.00. With the starting rotation struggling, Gant has been called upon to contribute in more than half of the Cardinals’ games and he’s allowed 0.6 base runners per inning. I’m sure he’d prefer to be a starter, and maybe that will happen at some point in the future. But he’s the most reliable option right now in the relief corps. Gant can perform a multi-inning role to be a right-handed version of Andrew Miller. If only Miller could pitch like his old self, the Birds would really be cooking with gas. As it stands, John Brebbia has been a remarkable second banana is the set-up crew. His numbers are just as good with the only difference being that it seems Gant has been used in higher leverage situations.

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