I bet you didn’t know that Lance Lynn‘s legal first name is Michael. Well, it sure is, but that’s not all that he has in common with fellow starters Mike Leake and Michael Wacha. Through the first three turns of the rotation these three have been far and away the best of the Cardinals starting pitchers. Better than freshly extended, blossoming Ace, Carlos Martinez. Better than former perennial Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright. On the young season, the 3-5 starters have outperformed the 1 and 2.
This was on full display during the series sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cardinals won three consecutive 2-1 games against the division foe behind the strong pitching of the Michael Tri-cycle (or Mike Trike, as I settled on after much internal debate). In the Pittsburgh series these three allowed just 2 ER, 14 H, and 3 BB’s over 20 IP.
Numbers Don’t Lie
Granted, Michael Lance Lynn had a bad start against a Washington team that seemingly features multiple MVP candidates, but otherwise this trio has been money for the Cardinals. The Cardinals are 5-4 in games started by these three starters and just 1-5 in games pitched by Martinez or Wainwright. Bill James created a stat called Game Score, which starts at a base of 50 and then adds and subtracts points based on how a starter performs. For example, a point is added for each strikeout and subtracted for each walk. In 15 games this year the Cardinals have had 6 game scores of 60 or higher from their starting pitchers. 5 of these 6 have come from the 3-5 starters, with Martinez’s Opening Night effort being the other.
More traditionally speaking, this is how the Cardinals starters add up.
The Mike Trike
9 Starts, 57.1 IP, 6.1 Innings per start, 44 K’s, 6.9 K/9, 12 BB’s, 2.04 ERA, 1.01 WHIP
6 Starts, 31.1 IP, 5.1 Innings per start, 37 K’s, 10.6 K/9, 15 BB’s, 5.17 ERA, 1.76 WHIP
Keep in mind that Martinez had two games with very high strikeout totals, but based on ERA, WHIP, and Innings per start, the men at the top of the rotation are underperforming.
Only As Good As Your Next Day’s Starting Pitcher
For the Cardinals to get rolling, Martinez and Wainwright have to step up. That starts with Carlos tonight in Milwaukee. Martinez has #1 Starter talent, but has not put it together in his two starts since opening night. Asking Wainwright to be an Ace again is out of the question. He isn’t the pitcher that he once was, but he must find a way to be a formidable #4 or #5 level starting pitcher, not the guy sporting a 7.24 ERA through 3 starts. We saw a reinvented C.C. Sabathia dominate the Cardinals on Saturday and Wainwright needs to follow his lead.
As far as The Trike goes, Lynn is coming back from a year off and likely will get better as he shakes the rust off. Leake is looking a little more dominant (in terms of ERA) than should be expected, but he will be a consistent performer that gives his team a chance to win every time out. Wacha carries some questions. When healthy he is typically a very good pitcher, but there is fear that his shoulder issue will flare up eventually. I wrote in spring training that I believe his off-season training (the same program used by Brandon McCarthy, another stress reaction affected pitcher) will pay off in the form of a full healthy year.
Three fifths of the rotation is rounding into shape and the bullpen (finally) is showing signs of a turnaround. It starts with pitching, as we saw against the Pirates. Stay hot on the mound and when the bats do finally come around, this will be the contending team we were hopeful for in spring training.
The Cardinals sputtered out of the gate but really never fell that far behind the teams that will be their chief competition in the NL Central. Stringing 3 wins together against the Pirates pulled the two teams even at 6-9. That was huge for the Cardinals as the Cubs sit at just 8-7, 2 games ahead going into Thursday. The 8-8 Brewers and 9-6 Reds are perhaps better than we expected, but will likely begin to fade as the calendar turns to May. The Cardinals have a great opportunity to erase the memories of the first two weeks and perch themselves right in the thick of the division with a series win in Milwaukee.
Martinez and Wainwright will pitch games one and two. For the Cardinals to complete a turnaround, so must these pitchers. First pitch is 7:10PM CT. Let’s play ball.
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