The old adage in baseball is pitching wins championships. The 2018 St. Louis Cardinals beg to differ.
As February arrives and pitchers/catchers get set to report to Florida in just over two weeks, all eyes are on Cardinals President of Baseball Operations (aka Big Daddy GM) John Mozeliak as plenty of starting pitching remains on the market. Do the Cardinals have enough and how much more do they need to win a World Series? Competing is nice and all, but getting back to winning a playoff series would be lovely.
Do they have enough? Well, they have bodies to fill spots, but the legitimacy of those arms is a whole different ordeal. The rotation isn't exactly living on a prayer, but it isn't even close to a sure thing. This rotation has all the qualities of a Michael Bay action film. One worthy star, a bunch of loud special effects, and a chance to truly implode.
Unsettling is the word I use
Please don't hit me with the Jack Flaherty and Austin Gomber trains. I love those kids and their abilities, but they aren't proven commodities. The Cardinals already have one young arm in Luke Weaver to lean on for extra work in 2018. Flaherty (if he isn't traded before opening day) had a sampling last summer, and figures to be a high-quality asset, but is untested and thus, not a sure thing.
Weaver has 96.2 innings of Major League experience, and please bypass telling me his minor league attributes, because those are dusty footnotes at this point as he assumes the high-leverage role of full-time starter for the St. Louis Cardinals.
The last time Miles Mikolas pitched in the Majors was in 2014 when the Cardinals were winning playoff games and fun stuff like that. He worked under new pitching coach Mike Maddux, but found his success several thousand miles away in Japan. There is word he sharpened his secondary pitches and discovered a new weapon as well, but seeing those translate to the power-hungry National League Central will be intriguing, to say the least.
Wrigley Field. Great American Ballpark. Miller Park. Get ready, Miles. I made a wild prediction that you would surprise us last month, but guess what I based that piece of prose on? Nothing. Pure hope, dude.
Adam Wainwright is the presumptive feel-good story of 2018. The old gunslinger trying to find a few more bullets before he rides out of town. A guy trying to turn back Father Time after a pair of disappointing and rather depressing seasons. Hitters are feasting on his curve, but don't worry, his elbow was cleaned up this winter, so he will be able to spin it like an angel this year. I'm not buying that or a Waino comeback. I think Wainwright is in the bullpen by the All-Star Break.
Carlos Martinez should ascend to Cy Young status this year because it's time. He climbed over the 200 inning wall in 2017, hurling two shutouts and posting his highest K/9 mark while the earned run average and FIP rose. Catcher Yadier Molina pointed to Martinez's mentality in what needs to be toned up for award status, and that's essentially the control of one's emotions on a mound and overall focus. After all, Martinez is 26 and expected to be an ace this year. It is all riding on El Gallo.
Michael Wacha dazzled fans in 2017 with a 3.2 WAR and holding up for an entire season, but they don't call a shoulder injury chronic for no reason. It's hard to get your hopes for Wacha repeating his 2017 performance. Human anatomy and physiology win out over hopes and dreams too often to get on board for another 165 innings and 30 starts. However, seeing Wacha's 8.6 K/9 innings get close to his 9 K/per 9 innings mark in 2013 was exciting. Still, Wacha is an "if" entering 2018.
I feel the same way about Jake Arrieta as I do listening to the radio outside during a thunderstorm, but that doesn't mean the Cardinals can't talk to other players. Arrieta and Yu Darvish are in no man's land, but let me beat the drum one more time for Lance Lynn. He's only 30, put together a season that rivaled Wacha's celebrated season, yet still hangs around on the market.
A year removed from Tommy John should return Lynn to 200 inning status, and the Cardinals need those assured innings. With no disrespect to Flaherty, Gomber, and Dakota Hudson, Lynn has provided 175 innings in four straight (taking out the 2016 season where he sat out with TJ) seasons. Throw him a wild one year deal packed with incentives or a two year deal with a vesting option for a third. Run into the season with that, and see where it takes you.
Here's what you have going into 2018:
Martinez: One season of 200 innings pitched or more
Weaver: 96 career innings in MLB
Wacha: 165.2 innings last year
Wainwright: 123.1 innings last year
Mikolas: 91.1 career MLB innings
If you feel good about that group right now, your optimism is stout. It looks a little thin to me. My fellow KSDK voice Frank Cusumano thinks the same, even if he pines for Arrieta to arrive instead of a country rock star.
I've heard it before and will after this article is read: you can't find out if potential is legit until it's given the chance to fully expand. I get that and support it. However, the Cardinals are leaning on a few more what-if's than they usually do.
The Cardinals are hoping Weaver blossoms into a 32 start/170 inning boss this year, and that Wainwright returns to his a resemblance of his 2014 self. They think Wacha has discovered a method that Brandon McCarthy never mastered on keeping his shoulder healthy for a whole season. They hope Mikolas discovered the secret of MLB worthy life overseas. Hope. Hope. Hope. There's a lot of it.
I want assured performance. When it comes to the current Cardinals rotation, there isn't enough of it.