Now that 162 have come and gone, the second season can officially start after another excruciating break. The Cardinals will host a very familiar opponent on Friday at Busch, as the National League Central represents over half of the playoff teams yet again. When we look back on this year’s adventures, there has been one single group that sets St. Louis apart no matter how you look at it.
Plain and simple, a third straight NL Central crown is not obtained without the stellar starting pitching group. This depth was a known quality way back in March but as the calendar turns to October, the names and order have certainly enjoyed a makeover of sorts. If anyone thought winning 100 games AND setting pitching marks not seen since the 1970’s without Adam Wainwright was possible, please draw my name in the XMas gift exchange.
We actually know very little about how the playoffs will play out this year, and that actually is refreshing for a change. Daniel made an excellent point earlier today, and I wanted to add that for a younger team the momentum factor would probably be a bigger deal. With all the veterans leading the way under the Arch, the Cardinals reached a high in Pittsburgh and understandably were mentally checked out for the most part in Atlanta.
But even though the offense was the main culprit for worried discussions over the summer, the revolving rotation never wavered even after losing another key piece last month. Carlos Martinez was certainly a strong candidate to take the ball in the NLDS, and his energy will have to be replaced for the Cardinals to advance. Look no further than the guy who was considered a Co-Ace coming into the season, as I present the ‘easiest’ group to pick for the St. Louis postseason party.
On the Rise
Lance Lynn was never even supposed to be a question mark entering the 2015 campaign. All the righty did was seemingly win while hurling 6.5 innings for 30+ starts so many, much like myself, were curious about his health once Wainwright went down. Lynn still managed to fight through a number of issues and actually the last three starts of the year yielded one earned run.
That’s not to say he didn’t have a roller coaster ride to get there, but Lynn certainly has earned his way on the four-man fun. He is a competitor and with his postseason pedigree, the Cardinals must have the good Lance in order to make a deep run into October. The other thing that I love to see this time of year is energy, and Lynn brings that in spades. The guy is never afraid to express the good or bad from the mound which will come in handy to fire up a stiff St. Louis club.
Maybe it is just me, but I have failed to think of any other team that actually calms me when they get behind early. One or two runs doesn’t seem to phase this group, and the stellar staff limits the damage better than most. It truly amazes me to watch late season games and NOT worry about the offense snoozing early. Will that still be the case next week? If Lynn and the next guy on the list perform up to their October standards, the Winter Meetings will be here before you know it!
With Wainwright and Lynn securely at the top of the rotation entering April, John Lackey became the forgotten veteran. I am the first to admit that last July’s trade left me underwhelmed about the prospects that Lackey had much left in the tank. He was true to his word about pitching for the minimum, however, and the Cardinals would be sunk without the Texan.
Lackey took the ball every five days, sometimes growled at everyone including Matheny, and endeared himself to all St. Louis fans happy to have that edge back on the hill. The postseason record speaks for itself, and I couldn’t be happier to be wrong about the guy entrusted to win a pair of games in each series if not throwing three times.
There will never be another Carp and with Waino relegated to an important bullpen role, Lackey quietly matches up with any team’s ace after putting together possibly his best showing over 13 illustrious season. The Cards would love nothing more than to help Lackey celebrate his third trip to the World Series before the veteran rides off to greener (and much more lucrative) pastures.
Never Left Out
The race for the final rotation spot back in March turned out much more exciting than anyone had initially planned. Martinez was perhaps the odds-on favorite simply because the team wanted him to win it. They didn’t trade Carlos last winter and were determined to have the electric fireballer as a future part of the core.
Out of the lefties to get a real look, Marco Gonzales arguably had the most upside after his quick ascent up the organizational chart. Almost no one was talking about the guy who surprisingly has appeared in parts of the last six St. Louis seasons but showed up in Jupiter on a mission. Jaime Garcia wanted everyone to remember the last time he was truly healthy and how filthy the movement is on all his offerings.
Garcia slots into any spot on the postseason order and honestly, he looks as dominant as ever before. Those two things together would have netted a lucky Cardinal fan any amount of money, as will the two option years the still only 29-year old has on his contract. Honkin’ for Jaime has never been sweeter than this summer, and you know he is one of many who can not wait to exorcise October demons starting Friday.
If Garcia has something at stake going into the NLDS, Michael Wacha only wants the opportunity. The first time All-Star and staff rainmaker has had a whirlwind of 12 months that rivals anyone in the game. From the highest highs to ultimate lows, Wacha now has to battle questions about the stuff that carried him to a team high 17 victories.
The most consistent part of the rotation heading into September, Wacha stumbled down the stretch and now has to wonder if the Cards have the same faith in him going into must-win territory. No one doubts his pure stuff, but a game on the road in Chicago or Pittsburgh suddenly doesn’t look quite as promising.
Whether or not Matheny learned the quick postseason hook from his predecessor, Tyler Lyons will make the roster as insurance in case any of the four falter. It is hard to look at anyone else, including Wainwright, that has the ability to give multiple innings now that the roster appears slanted towards an increase of bench bats.
The final decisions are yet to be made, but it is very hard to any order that doesn’t have Lackey and Garcia at home followed by Lynn and Wacha. Much of that discussion will surely be dictated by how the first pair of games under the Arch play out, and I’m sure the coaching staff has dissected every possible outcome no matter which opponent survives the Wild Card battle royale.
Losing Martinez only clarified the other occupants but won’t provide the Cardinals clarity as another berth to the NLCS hangs in the balance. The record-setting staff has been there before and pushed each other to be considered the St. Louis stopper.
Now they get the opportunity to continue the magical run and further annoy the rest of baseball as long as possible. We don’t mind reading the hate mail so feel free to keep playing right up to say, Halloween, since asking for November would just be considered greedy!