(BaseballStL) – Of all of the mantras in baseball, one rings truer than most: you can never have enough pitching.
The Cardinals appear dead set on relentlessly reinforcing that philosophy despite having what seemed to be an unlimited supply of arms at the beginning of the year.
In the course of 2013, the Cardinals have gone through a long and winding injury safari that began with the loss of Chris Carpenter in February. Jason Motte quickly followed, ending his season in March.
Jaime Garcia joined the 60-day DL in May, amid some early call-ups. John Gast, Michael Wacha and Tyler Lyons all got turns on the mound to fill the gaps.
Fernando Salas then headed to the DL, and since it looked like so much fun, Gast followed five days later.
In all the shuffle, seven pitchers have made their MLB debut this season for the Cardinals. Three were starters, while Keith Butler, Michael Blazek, Seth Maness and Kevin Seigrist all held spots in the bullpen.
Seigrist and Maness have solidified their posts, and Blazek and Butler- while both have made recent trips to Memphis- saw a combined 28.2 innings of work (though Butler took the bulk of those).
Additionally Trevor Rosenthal, though he has a year of experience, is a very young arm at age 23. Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller aren’t technically rookies, but neither have a full season of work, and Lance Lynn has just one year as a starter to his name.
So the bullpen is full of high-performing youngsters, and the rotation is staffed with several budding hurlers- of something the Cardinals know all too well needs protecting and smart management.
This means the starters- especially those with endurance-tested arms- need to go deep enough into games to protect the youthful arms in relief. Unfortunately, they aren’t doing that.
In the second half, the Cardinals are averaging less than six innings a start. Worse still, Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller are pitching the best, while Wainwright and Westbrook are sliding.
Waino’s 1-2 record and 3.72 ERA are far worse than the first half, and Westbrook has thrown 23.1 chaotic innings with a 5.40 ERA.
Kelly and Miller each have ERAs under 3 (Kelly’s is a phenomenal 1.57) and they have both won two games since the break.
So now you have the arms that need the most protection performing the best, and their relief is just as young. Which arms do you watch out for first?
Waino is easily the biggest innings eater, averaging over seven per start. However his second half is far uglier, and those innings badly need to be followed by wins.
In the remaining 40 or so games, the Cardinals are going to face a gruesome balancing act where they weigh their high-level young starters against the high-level young relievers, betting game-to-game on which innings will be the most crucial.
Long term, it’s an exciting prospect to have so many quality arms at the beginning of their tenure in the bigs. Short term, it’s a tenuous operation that could lead to improbable post-season success or spin wildly off into disaster if another line drive takes out a starter in the first inning.