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As Cardinals pitching improves, wins will come

The St. Louis Cardinals have won only one of their last six games.

But I feel better about this team now than I did a week ago.

Why?

Because, while the offense has been hit and miss, the starting pitching -- which most folks who pay attention to this team understand is its heart and soul -- is starting to come together.

The Redbirds batsmen were shut down Tuesday by a crafty pitcher who hurled a whale of a game. But Michael Wacha was equally brilliant. With any help at all from the hitters, Wacha would have been the start of the game instead of a hard-luck loser.

I believe the hits are going to come -- especially when one of the team’s best sluggers, Jhonny Peralta, is nearing a return to the lineup.

It’s the St. Louis pitchers who need to hold down the opposition if the home team is going to rack up wins.

Wacha easily turned in his best performance of the year Tuesday. (Really, his first start of the year was his only bad performance, and he’s been increasingly better since.) He went eight innings and allowed one run on five hits and three walks. He struck out eight.

The lone run came on an ill-timed bad pitch to St. Louis area native Ryan Howard who hits in Busch Stadium like he was born to play there. The no-doubt homer was the only run allowed by either team in the game.

But it shouldn’t have been that way.

The Cardinals got a lead-off double in the first inning and stranded Matt Carpenter on base when Stephen Piscotty struck out, Matt Holliday grounded out to first and Matt Adams lined out to right field.

If Piscotty was able to move up Carpenter, Holliday’s grounder would have given St. Louis a run and the teams might still be playing.

Instead, Wacha was saddled with a loss to fall to 2-2. But his ERA fell to 2.65 for the season.

Ace Adam Wainwright’s season numbers are awful with a 2-3 record and a 6.68 ERA. But he passed out some reasons to be optimistic in his Monday night start against Philadelphia.

He made it through six innings, tied for his longest outing of the year, with five hits and three runs allowed. It was Wainwright’s only start of the season in which he allowed less hits than innings pitched, he posted a single-game strikeout mark for the season with five and walked only one.

Wainwright said after the game that he believes he was able to make some corrections in his delivery which allowed him to better get the ball down. And, although he occasionally hung his signature curveball, Wainwright said he believes he’s on the right path to getting the handle on his most effective pitch.

Starter Carlos Martinez has been the most successful member of the St. Louis rotation through the first month of the season. He’s 4-1 with a 2.60 ERA. Hopefully his latest off the field problems won’t seep between the lines -- or result in a suspension. His progress has been so rapid that a lot of folks I talk to say they see him, instead of Wacha, as heir apparent to Wainwright as team ace.

Jaime Garcia is only 1-2 thanks to some hard luck but has been pretty good with a 3.73 ERA and 22 hits allowed in 31 1/3 innings of work.

Only Mike Leake, the team’s off-season free agent pickup, remains to be straightened out. He’s 0-3 with a 5.83 ERA and has been pretty consistently bombed every time out.

Leake isn’t David Price. But I expect that he’ll at least settle out to his norm of 10-12 wins and 211 innings pitched a season.

While the offense has been disappointing at times lately, it’s the pitching that will win or lose games. I like the Cardinals’ chances if they hold the other team two two or three runs a night.

We knew the offense wasn’t likely to be prolific and the much-respected front office believed they had a formula to win.

The surprise contributions of Aledmys Diaz as an everyday player ought to make the team that much better. And when Peralta gets back in a few weeks, I like what this team brings to the field.

It’s just a matter of not falling too far behind while working out the bugs.

But, honestly, does that really even matter anymore in the wild card era?

Just get into the playoffs, Redbirds, then throw Wainwright, Wacha and Martinez at whomever you face.

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