(Baseball StL) -- If you do the math and look at the Cardinals rotation at the moment, there is one gigantic wild card at play. Sans Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia is the difference between a pretty good starting rotation and a very mediocre one.
Rotations, successful ones anyway, are split between the front end and the back end. There’s usually an ace (someone who’s capable of stopping a losing streak all by himself), a couple other guys who can do the same every so often and then a couple more who are innings eaters. Those are the ones who you just hope give you a chance to win, while not necessarily winning all by themselves - a la pitching seven shutout innings.
So, where to the Cards fit into this mold?
First off, there are three guys we can pretty much guarantee will be in the rotation come Opening Day. Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook and Lance Lynn. Wainwright’s the ace. He is the #1 who can be a dominator more often than not. He takes that role with no questions asked. Westbrook’s easy too. He’s a back end starter. He won’t win you games but he’ll give you a chance to win most of the time. He takes one of the two spots at the end of the rotation. Then there’s Lynn. He’s got front end stuff, no doubt. Heck he won 18 games last year and made the All Star team. But his conditioning - at least we’re led to believe it’s his conditioning - affected his performance late. It got so bad (6.66 ERA in August) that he was moved to the bullpen.
Where does he fit then? Well, ideally he’s a back end starter with front end upside. But here he might have to be a top three guy. That’s because one of the other two spots will be filled by either Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal or Joe Kelly. All three have dominating stuff. Like...potential ace upside. However, you don’t ever want to count on someone so young to carry you. It’s just not fair to them or the team. You have no idea how they’ll handle the rigors of a full season.
That means whoever gets that spot - Chris Carpenter’s - will have to assume the role of back end starter. So this means Lance Lynn’s season just got more important. He has to be better than a 4th or 5th starter. If he’s a 4/5 guy and so is Westbrook and whatever kid get’s Carpenter’s spot...the Cardinals have problems.
Then there’s the biggest wild card of all. Jaime Garcia. It’s been my take that ever since he came into the big leagues he’s had as good of stuff as any pitcher on this team. Seriously. His late movement is so filthy that when he’s on, and locating, it’s nearly impossible to hit him. Garcia’s that good. The problem is he’s as erratic as he is nasty on the mound. Too many things out of his control affect his pitches.
Now, he’s not even completely healthy. He’s still a question coming into spring training with regards to his shoulder.
If, and this is a huge if, he’s healthy and ready to do what he does best, Garcia can fill the other front end spot in this rotation. He’s got the ability to be as good as anyone. But if he’s not? If he’s injured or erratic? That leaves a giant hole in this rotation for another front end starter. Wainwright’s one, Lynn could be another, but you need more than that.
Jaime Garcia and Lance Lynn are the keys to this rotation. At their best, even without Carpenter, it can still be extremely good. With issues, the Cards could have some problems.