ST. LOUIS — At the beginning of the 2022 Cardinals season, it looked like the pitching blueprint for this year was relying on quite a bit of wishing and hoping.
Now, halfway through the season, those hopes and wishes are falling flat, and the team is teetering on what feels like a "make or break" point of the year.
But it wasn't hard to see this possibility before the season even started.
"There's a lot of hopes and a lot of praying going on that things work out," I said on our preseason episode of Cardinals Plus on April 5.
And I'm not some baseball savant looking back on how smart I was. It was just incredibly easy to see that there were a ton of things that needed to go just right for this patchwork pitching to hold up for a full season.
So let's take a look at the in-house options for the Cardinals coming into this year, and how those options have panned out so far. We'll start with the good stuff.
The 40-year-old veteran seems to get better with age, but counting on that trend continuing and him being your ace again seemed cautiously optimistic at best.
But the trend has continued. Wainwright has been solid once again, holding a 3.26 ERA and averaging more than six innings per start. He's done his job.
After missing the entire 2020 season and only appearing in nine games in 2021, Mikolas was a considerable question mark heading into 2022.
He's blown those concerns out of the water to be one of the NL's best pitchers at the halfway mark. He has a 2.61 ERA and came within an out of recording the franchise's first no-hitter since 2001.
This is where the good news pretty much ends.
Your projected ace, Flaherty, looks a long way from his dominant 2019 form, mostly due to injuries in recent seasons.
He's only been able to start three games so far this year, to poor results, and is currently on the IL again with a shoulder injury and no certainty from the front office that he'll pitch again this year.
Your big pitching acquisition this offseason has a -0.5 WAR and a 6.03 ERA in nine starts. He's also currently injured and working his way back to the majors.
Matz signed a 4-year, $44 million deal ahead of the season. While it's far too early to write him off, it's fair to say things haven't gone as planned.
Hudson appeared in just two games in 2021 after coming back from Tommy John surgery.
Coming into 2022, he was no sure thing either.
And recently, things have begun to unravel. Hudson has a 4.29 ERA on the season, and a 7.82 ERA in his last five starts.
The sinkerballer is also having trouble finding the strike zone and letting his defense gobble up ground balls. He has walked 14 batters in his last 25 and a third innings pitched.
The most exciting arm in the Cardinals' system broke into the rotation out of spring training. It was a bold concept, but the results weren't there.
In seven starts, Hicks had a 5.84 ERA in 24 and two-thirds innings.
He then landed on the injured list and has been worked back in as a reliever.
The pleasant surprise of the season, but not the arm the Cardinals were counting on taking up a spot in the rotation in 2022.
Pallante has been good, to the tune of a 3.03 ERA, but has only worked into the sixth inning or later, twice.
The franchise's top pitching prospect has started five games in the majors this season, with mixed results and not many innings.
Still regarded as one of the top young pitching prospects in the game, a sour start to his career isn't the most concerning thing in the world. But Liberatore certainly hasn't been the savior some might have viewed him as.
From Drew VerHagen, to Aaron Brooks, to Alex Reyes and a few others mixed in, by and large, the Cardinals' pitching plans have failed them this season.
Without the three-headed monster at the back end of the bullpen in Ryan Helsley, Giovanny Gallegos and Genesis Cabrera, the team would be in even worse shape.
The thing is, they've just had trouble getting it to that trio with a chance to win the ballgame.
Ideally, the Cardinals would have fortified their stable of arms before the season even began. At the beginning of the year, folks, including me, were clamoring for the Cardinals to go out and grab one of Oakland's top-line starters on the block.
The Padres got Sean Manaea for two mid-to-low level prospects in April. While he hasn't been great by any means, Manaea has been serviceable and has done his part to at least give San Diego innings.
Frankie Montas was going to command a bigger prospect haul, and ended up staying in Oakland. He has a 3.26 ERA and has easily been one of the brightest spots in a putrid season for the Athletics. He's now dealing with shoulder inflammation, which could throw a wrench in a deadline deal.
So, what can the Cardinals do now besides throw their hands up and say, "oh well"?
As mentioned, Montas has some injury concerns, and the price is likely still too high for the Cardinals to bite. Two Reds starters, Tyler Mahle and Luis Castillo, also projected to be on the trading block, now have injury concerns of their own. And while a trade with the Cubs always seems like a long shot, noted Cardinals killer and projected trade deadline possibility Kyle Hendricks is also hurt.
In short, the top trade deadline pitching options appear to have question marks of their own.
On paper, 2022 looked like a "go all-in" type of season.
The Cardinals have two of the best players in baseball (Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado) in their primes and are celebrating a swan song for three franchise legends (Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Wainwright).
They failed to address the glaring need for pitching stability at the beginning of the year, so now they have to decide if trading from their impressive stash of prospects and outfield depth is worth it, to patch the holes.
Because the boat is rapidly taking on water.