Cheap Seats

The St. Louis Cardinals need to fix their pitching if they want to compete in 2020

It’s obvious that the St. Louis Cardinals offense needs a lot of help.

The inability to score runs was the team’s biggest struggle in 2019. However, I still believe this team’s hitters have a lot of upside. I think the Cardinals can fix their offense from within, for the most part. Therefore, the team should dedicate its financial resources — or trade targeting — on starting pitching.

It seems in this era of baseball, it’s nearly impossible to put together a faultless team. You have to assemble as many winning qualities as you can and try to make the best of what’s left. With a team that is vastly improved defensively over a year a ago and with seven guys in the lineup who are capable of hitting 20 home runs, St. Louis needs to capitalize on the breakout of young pitchers Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson to try to put five pitchers on the roster who have the ability to shut down the other team on their day to take the ball.

While the 2006 Cardinals somehow managed to win the World Series with smoke and mirrors in the form of Jeff Weaver, Anthony Reyes and Jeff Suppan, history proves that it is dominant pitching that wins championships. The two clubs in the Fall Classic this year are no exception. The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals both have multiple pitchers who could be the ace of their staff if they were on different teams.

Meanwhile, if the Cardinals don’t do something different, 2020 will be the third year in a row that the Cardinals will count on Alex Reyes to take control of one of the five spots in the starting rotation. He hasn’t ever come close to fulfilling his massive potential. The Cardinals likewise have been let down the last couple of years by their decision to pencil Carlos Martinez into the rotation. He hasn’t made more than 18 starts since 2017 and even back then his right shoulder was starting to show signs of trouble. The team has counted on Michael Wacha to be the pitcher he was as a rookie over the last five years and only once since 2015 has he made more than three-quarters of his expected starts. Former ace Adam Wainwright has had more than his fair share of injury problems over the past several years, too. Every year one or two — or all — of those pitchers breaks down and a compromised rotation drags St. Louis down from being a contender to being a mediocre team.

I don’t have a problem with taking a flier on one guy who has a high upside. But you can’t roll the dice by plugging in guys who have a troubling injury history in three or four of the rotation spots.

Flaherty is going to get one of the rotation spots. Hudson will get one and Miles Mikolas will get another, barring a trade. But if I was in charge, I wouldn’t be willing to put Alex Reyes and Carlos Martinez into the other two and claim there is no room at the inn for someone a little bit more reliable. How about if the Cardinals made a move to get a front of the rotation starter and then let C-Mart and Alex Reyes battle it out for the fifth spot. The guy who doesn’t win the job, if he is healthy enough, can go to the bullpen to be the long man or to fill in for closer Jordan Hicks until he comes back from Tommy John surgery sometime in the second half of the season.

Will Adam Wainwright return in 2020?

The wild card in this plan is the uncertainty if Adam Wainwright will come back for another season. If he chooses to do so, I believe the Cardinals owe him the opportunity and they’ll have to plan around him. Wainwright, as much as he’s struggled with his health in recent years, is still a big game pitcher who will give the team everything he’s got every time he takes the mound.

Besides his on the field production, he’s a great example and a great resource for the younger pitchers. Martinez and Reyes will have to get in line behind him.

Will the Cardinals trade Reyes or Martinez?

The other option is to send Reyes or Martinez away in a trade for other pieces that could help the team. While they haven’t produced for the Cardinals as starters the past two years, they’re both controllable and relatively affordable and could have quite a bit of appeal to a team that believes it can straighten out their health issues.

There are a lot of ways this situation could shake out. But, one way or another, the Cardinals need to try something different in 2020. And the plan should be centered around the idea of creating one of the most dominant starting rotations in baseball as a priority over everything else.


What is this blog?

Scott Wuerz is a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan. The Cheap Seats blog is written from his perspective as a fan and is designed to spark discussion among fans of the Cardinals and other MLB teams. Sources supporting his views and opinions are linked. If you’re looking for Cardinals news and features, check out the BND’s Cardinals section.

Scott Wuerz has written “Cheap Seats,” a St. Louis Cardinals fan blog for the Belleville News-Democrat, since 2007. He is a former BND reporter who covered breaking news and education.