Game 3 of the National League Division Series perfectly illustrates why I hope that veteran starting pitcher Adam Wainwright will decide to come back in 2020 — and why I hope Carlos Martinez will be pitching for someone else next season.
Wainwright was absolutely brilliant through 7 2/3 innings. He perplexed the Braves batters over and over again until he finally ran out of gas, nursing a 1-0 lead under intense pressure. Then Martinez came in, poured gas all over the floor and started lighting matches.
It was the second playoff game in a row in which Martinez ended up surrendering three runs. But it’s not those individual games that have my dander up. It’s that Carlos never changes. He’s a wonderfully talented pitcher. But last night, just like he had to do five years ago, catcher Yadier Molina has to constantly give Martinez pep talks and try to screw the hurler’s head on straight. There is no reason, with his stuff, why Martinez shouldn’t be a threat to win 20 games every year. Instead, he never learns. Every hot streak has a dumpster fire waiting to break out just around the next corner.
It’s really sad to think that Martinez and Michael Wacha came on the scene about the same time. While Martinez had to be babied in the bullpen because he couldn’t control his emotions well enough to be a starter, Wacha was relied on immediately. He flirted with a no-hitter in an important game down the stretch, then easily shrugged of hostile Pittsburgh Pirates fans who mockingly chanted his name. The rookie was more than up to the challenge and looked like an ace in the making — until his shoulder let him down. The unfortunate realities of the game dictated that Martinez got long-term contract while Wacha has likely played his last game as a St. Louis Cardinal and likely will have a tough time getting anything more than a one-year contract.
Until Martinez fumbled it away, Wainwright pitched the type of game that any veteran athlete would be proud to have as his coda. It was vintage stuff for a guy who had the guts to bet on himself with an incentive-laden, one-year contract after struggling to stay healthy the past few seasons. It would have been sweet to see him beat his hometown team which reluctantly traded him away a decade and a half ago. Instead, Martinez put the Cardinals on the brink of elimination and stole the spotlight from a guy who richly deserved it.
Trade Martinez for an ace or a slugger
I really hoped Martinez would embrace his role and finally prove he could be a big game pitcher. Even if the Cardinals see Wainwright coming back next season, they still have to replace Wacha in the rotation and I’m not counting on 2020 to be the year that Alex Reyes gets his body to cooperate for an entire season. But can you count on the guy at all at this point?
It seems to make sense to try to find a trading partner for the still relatively young and controllable pitcher. Why would someone take a chance on him? He’s got fantastic stuff and every team has a pitching coach that thinks he can find the magic solution to the other guy’s problem. Besides, since Martinez is relatively cost controllable, he might be appealing as part of a swap made by a club that is looking to shed some payroll. Maybe the Cardinals can trade Martinez for a front of the rotation hurler to compliment Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson. Or maybe they can deal him away in a package for a middle of the order slugger who can play left field or third base. Maybe it becomes a blockbuster and St. Louis trades both Martinez and Kolten Wong for a difference maker. Wong is having a career year, but St. Louis has something intriguing in speedy and versatile ballplayer Tommy Edman.
St. Louis Cardinals need pitching
If Wainwright decides to go out on a high note, the Cardinals will have a huge need for starting pitching. Wainwright isn’t just a guy his team can count on to go out there and give everything he’s got every fifth day. He’s also the undisputed leader of the pitching staff who won’t easily be replaced. While they’ve made great steps this year, Flaherty and Hudson could still use a mentor at this point of their careers like Chris Carpenter was for Adam Wainwright and Woody Williams was for Chris Carpenter.
Not only is Martinez not the guy to lead anyone, he’s done Hudson a terrible disservice by putting the rookie pitcher in a spot where he has to beat a tough team to keep the Cardinals alive in the playoffs.
It wasn’t all Martinez’s fault that the Birds lost. St. Louis had two on and nobody out in the bottom of the eight and managed to run themselves out of the inning when they could have built on their lead. There is also the fact that the Cardinals didn’t exactly set the world on fire by getting on base much earlier in the game. But this is the post season and a one-run lead is often going to be all you’re going to get. Excuses don’t get rings, results do. It’s just absolutely devastating when one guy is able to undo all of the accomplishments his teammates have achieved over eight innings in one lousy frame.
I am afraid manager Mike Shildt is going to run Martinez right back out there the next time his team has a one-run lead in the ninth. But I think the Cardinals would be better off at this point if Giovanny Gallegos got a shot to close for the rest of the post season. I don’t see how he could do any worse.