(BaseballStL) — As the Cardinal offense continues to find it’s way in a season marred with lackluster power and inconsistency, the team’s arms have risen to the unexpected challenge.
St. Louis has been kept afloat by one of the more impressive first half pitching performances in recent memory. Despite a litany of injuries to what was expected to be the best rotation in baseball, the team has still managed a starting ERA of 3.35.
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Additionally, the starters and bullpen have combined for 16 team shutouts, best in the majors and a mark 2013’s club didn’t reach until well into the second half. They have allowed 58 home runs, fewest in the majors, and no NL team has allowed fewer total bases to hitters this season. The team has 52 wins, despite having just one pitcher in the top 30 for run support. The fact the club is one game out of the division race is largely due to stellar pitching, which earns the hurlers an A.
Much of the credit has to go to the bullpen which, given the abbreviated nature of so many starts this season, has shouldered more than 280 innings.
Many of those have been thrown by young arms. Some, like Sam Freeman, didn’t even begin the season on the team. Through all the work, they’ve held a 3.56 ERA and have 31 team saves, good for second in the NL. The bullpen has done just about as well as could be asked, and has to be given an A+. The one worrisome spot in the pen has to be Trevor Rosenthal. While he is second in saves in the league, many of those have been an adventure. He has walked at least one batter in 22 of his 43 appearances. He is often behind in counts, and too many men reach base in tight games. He has dodged disaster enough to pick up 28 saves, but he has not been a sure thing, earning him a B.
Though the Cardinals have started Tyler Lyons, Marco Gonzales and now have Carlos Martinez as a full-fledged member of the rotation, the starters have managed to keep things in reach nearly every game.
Adam Wainwright has had a tremendous first half, and the fact he’s starting the All Star Game solidifies his A+, but if there’s one who arm that has been the difference it’s 10-win Lance Lynn. Wainwright is the ace of the club, and his 11-4 record should be no surprise to anyone who has followed the team.
Lynn however, has long been a question mark. His propensity to lose control of the game for an inning put his viability in question coming into the year.
He began by winning his first four starts, and barring a blister issue in Los Angeles, has only failed to go five innings once on the season. In 12 of his 18 starts, he’s allowed two earned runs or less. He’s kept the opposition from scoring five times.
Wainwright will always be the anchor, but Lynn has been an A grade performer through injuries and offensive ups and downs. If the Cardinals are going to lean on pitching this heavily in the second half, his shoulders will have to continue to dependably bear the weight.
The other three rotation spots are going to have to go deeper into games. The team has proven it has plenty of arms; what it needs are innings. Shelby Miller has gone seven innings or more in only three starts. He’s failed to make six complete innings in 11 of 19, which earns him a B-. Wacha, before his injury, went at least six in every start but three. He hasn’t gone more than seven, but six innings every time out will take the pressure off an overworked pen. Unfortunately, his health puts his workload in question, despite an A- start.
Carlos Martinez can be excused for short starts as he finds his footing, he will have to be able to make six innings steadily, which he has done only once. His performance in Milwaukee puts him on shaky ground, as he did not appear prepared for such a big game. With little work to grade, he sits tenuously at a B.
Joe Kelly was rushed back from injury and predictably struggled in his return to the mound. The All Star break will help him finalize his recovery, and then the Cardinals will have a more accurate picture of what to expect. If last season is any predictor, six innings is the mark for him. In the second half he was consistently going 18 outs on his way to a 9-2 record. He had a tremendous start, but does not have enough to grade him on.
St. Louis scraped their way to within a game of the division, and will begin the back part of the season healthier than they’ve been in months. Still, if the offense continues to struggle, the pitching staff will be in danger of collapsing under the weight. The Cardinals must find runs or find innings, and fast.