St. Louis Cardinals, projecting the postseason starting rotation


In 2013, the starters for the St. Louis Cardinals contributed 102.2 innings in the postseason. The combination of Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and Joe Kelly posted a 3.48 ERA, 102 strikeouts and a 1.13 WHIP.

Wainwright posted the only complete game of the entire post season in the clinching game five of the NLDS. Wacha was a phenom in his first four playoff games, posting a 1.00 ERA and a 4-0 record, beating Clayton Kershaw twice and John Lackey.

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Kelly pegged Hanley Ramirez in game one of the NLCS, changing the complexion of the entire series. Lynn didn’t pitch particularly well, but put up a solid performance in game five of the World Series.

One player who was noticeably absent was Shelby Miller, but this season he is making his case to make playoff starts in October. Miller faded late in 2013 while Wacha took off, becoming a postseason hero.

With Wacha still working his way back from an injury, Lynn pitching like a solid number two starter, Lackey coming over in a trade, Miller developing into the pitcher they thought he could be and Wainwright getting back on track, the Cardinals are looking at a tricky decision. They’re going to have to narrow their rotation down to four, if they are able to make it to the divisional round.

This is how I think it will break down.

The Locks

Adam Wainwright

There’s no debating, if Adam Wainwright doesn’t have a dead arm, he is the ace of the staff. Regardless of if you are looking at postseason or regular season stats, no one can hold a candle to his numbers. Wainwright was right up with Kershaw for the NL Cy Young race for a good part of the season before falling off, but he has won his last two starts, including a complete game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

His postseason numbers make it a no-doubter. As a rookie, Wainwright piled up four saves in 9.2 innings without allowing an earned run. In the years following, Wainwright has been almost as good. In 67.2 career playoff innings, he has a 2.53 ERA, 76 strikeouts and a .227 opponents average.

Lance Lynn

In 2014, Lynn has come into his own. He threw his first career complete game in May, is posting his best career ERA and has controlled the blow-up innings that frequently sunk his outings. He now has 15 wins, sixth in the National League, with a 2.73 ERA which is seventh in the NL.

Lynn boasts 162 strikeouts, 15th in the NL. This is a breakout season for Lynn, and if he can make it happen in the playoffs the Cardinals will have a formidable 1-2 punch to go up against the Nationals and Dodgers.

The Rest

John Lackey

The trade for John Lackey looked like a move to build for the playoffs. Lackey has over 100 career playoff innings, and has won the World Series clinching games for two different organizations. Lackey, who has been to the playoffs six different times, has a 6-5 career record in the playoffs with a 3.03 ERA.

Despite his success in the playoffs, Lackey has not had the hot hand in the last few games. In his last three starts, Lackey has a 6.28 ERA, 22 hits allowed and a diminishing fastball.

His average fastball velocity is down one and a half miles per hour as compared to his 2014 numbers with the Red Sox, taking the pitch from 1.1 run above average to 3.9 runs below average.

Shelby Miller

Miller was yanked from the rotation in the playoffs last season but he looks to be strong in the final month of the 2014 season. Miller has a higher ERA and a worse record than his rookie season but he has been on fire in his past few starts.

Miller has begun using a sinker that he learned from Justin Masterson and throwing his curveball more frequently since Yadier Molina‘s return behind the plate.

With the new mix of pitches, Miller has a 0.86 ERA in his last three starts. He has gone seven innings in each of the starts and hasn’t allowed more than four hits. His strikeout numbers have been down all year, but he learning to pitch to contact and has benefited from the much improved Cardinals defense.

Michael Wacha

I already talked about how good Wacha was in the playoffs last year, but his late season injury could keep him from posting a repeat performance. Wacha went on the DL in June, and just rejoined the team in Milwaukee last week. He has been building up arm strength in the majors rather than going on a rehab assignment.

His fastball touched 96 in his first game back, a three inning appearence with one earned run and three strikeouts, but his second outing did not go as well. He allowed five earned runs in in four innings against the anemic Reds offense.

Wacha could be a game changer for the Cardinals in the playoffs, but if he pitches like he did his last time out, it might be a short run for the Red Birds this season.

The Verdict

I think Shelby Miller has played his way into the rotation with how strong he has looked in September, but  a lot can change.

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The only way Lackey misses the rotation is if he completely breaks down. His last start was a short one because of an early ejection but it was not trending in a good direction.

As for Wacha, I think the Cardinals should be cautions with the 22-year-old, so if I were setting the rotation Wacha would be the odd man out. And if you slot one of the best pitchers from the 2013 playoffs into your late relief core, your bullpen looks a lot better.

The Cardinals don’t look like the juggernaut they were last year, but that never really stopped stopped Cardinals teams in the past. They snuck into the playoffs in 2006 and 2011 and won the whole thing.

They have experienced talent to make some noise in a year where no team stand out as the clear favorite. If too many arms in the rotation is your only problem and that is not the case for the 2014 Cardinals, the team with the fewest home runs in baseball, then you are in good shape.