By Dan Buffa
The St. Louis Cardinals have been hanging around through the first four weeks of the season. With a record sitting at 14-11, there are issues with this team that are too premature to break down thoroughly. All fans can do right now without hyperventilating or causing radio frequencies to explode is gather hope around the edges of nine inning battles.
My rule of thumb for six month long 162 game seasons is start getting serious when the temperature starts to rise considerably. Fans can hope the hitting becomes more power friendly and the defense sharpens up. The errors are being made by sure handed professionals and the bats aren't firing at will. Allen Craig apparently isn't a machine after all and Jhonny Peralta's bat likes to hibernate. Trevor Rosenthal has 7 saves yet he has helped thousands of Cardinal fans seek out blood pressure medication. There are the usual worries like the health of Yadi Molina.
Through the first batch of games, starting pitching has been the prime reason the Cards are over .500 and looking respectable in the toughest division in baseball. That all starts and ends with the dominance of Adam Wainwright. Allow me to break this down.
Michael Wacha may be quite the amazing young talent, but Adam Wainwright solidifies his position as the rotation ace/leader every time he takes the mound. As loose as he is in the dugout between starts, he is a mountain of urgency and efficiency when he is atop the rubber firing knee buckling curveballs to hitters and eating up innings. Waino will lead this rotation in innings again this year and that's the way it should be.
In January at the Winter Warmup, Wainwright talked about having the younger guys come running for him and he liked the competition put in front of him. Certain athletes thrive off that competitive fire and perform better with it attached to their shoulder. A two time Cy Young finalist who had his career halted by Tommy John Surgery in 2011, Waino came back in 2012 and didn't miss a beat before returning to supremacy in 2013.
In 2014 Wainwright has been nothing short of remarkable. Before he left a start against the Mets last night with a hyper extended knee, Waino was easily among the top 3 pitchers in baseball so far this season.On Sunday against the Pirates, he demonstrated how great he is by dominating a good offense and winning a series for his team. He exits the weekend 5-1 with an ERA of 1.20. He threw 8 shutout innings Sunday and blanked the Pittsburgh Pirates. On the season, he has a 4-1 strikeouts to walks ratio. He has anchored a young rotation full of pitchers who want to be the ace of the staff.
On a team loaded with farm system crops, Waino is pitching at the top of his game. In a recent interview with Fox Sports Midwest, he said his best is ahead of him and he has never felt better in his career. If you take a peek at his baseball card, that statement has to be eye opening.
In order to understand how great he is, one must understand how far Waino has come. He pitched in 2 games in 2005 after coming over in a trade from Atlanta and worked as a reliever in 2006 before taking over closing duties from Jason Isringhausen late in the season. He was a postseason hero as he closed out the World Series and enshrined himself in Cardinal history. In 2007, he took his rightful place in the rotation and started 32 games, went 14-12 and walked 70 batters to go with 136 strikeouts and a 3.70 ERA.
The next season, shrunk by injuries, Wainwright won 11 games and posted a 3.20 ERA. In 2009, he broke out. Waino won 19 games, struck out 213 batters and pitched in 34 games and accumulated 233 innings. He became a staff ace that year as Chris Carpenter was running into a serious gauntlet of late career injury. In 2010, Waino lowered his ERA to 2.42 and won 20 games, finishing 2nd in the Cy Young race.
After missing 2011 to Tommy John, Waino struggled to find his command in 2012 yet still won 14 games, struck out 186, threw 2 shutouts and pitched 198 innings. At his worst, Waino is an innings eating machine and one of the game's biggest competitors. At his best, he is a Cy Young caliber pitcher. To go with the stats, you have the bulldog mentality on the mound and the never say die makeup. Waino is everything you want in a pitcher.
Waino does all the little things right too. He handles the media and pressure better than anyone else. If he isn't dancing with Joe Kelly between starts, endorsing Jay Nixon's anti-smoking campaigns or performing other sound charity activities, he is on a mound dealing greatness. Waino hasn't won a Cy Young award yet(thanks for Clayton Kershaw and Los Angeles markets) but he is still hungry and aiming for the top. He isn't sitting comfortably on a 6 year 100 million dollar contract. He is leading an army of talented young pitchers to the promise land and that includes more World Series rings than individual awards.
Some may call Waino boring because he is the perfect ace, but every time he takes the mound I breathe a sigh of relief. Talking to him at the Winter Warmup, he carried the wounded honor of living through a World Series defeat yet he had a twinkle in his eye. When asked about the difference between the past two playoff failures of 2012 and 2013, he pointed out that the Cards let the Giants get away with one but the Red Sox simply had them beat. At the end of the day, Waino shoots straight.
With a rotation stacked with power arms like Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn and Mr. Wacha, Waino knows full well that the only thing located at the end of the tunnel for the Cardinals is bright light. Expect more greatness from Wainwright as he pitches in his 8th full major league season. If not, he will at least have the guts to face the microphones, speak the blunt truth and keep moving forward. As a veteran of the game, that's all we can ask for.
You can read the original version of this blog here: http://archcitysports.com/greatness-waino/
Dan Buffa is an sports writer for Sports Rants. He is also a contributor to KSDK.com and Arch City Sports while writing for his own website, Dose Of Buffa. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @buffa82.