Austin Plack – Indy Writer
For many of us, Spring is the best time of the year. The grass starts to get green again. Leaves start to transform seemingly lifeless naked trees into vibrant displays of colors. Flowers start to bloom again. Jackets are no longer needed and it isn’t a chore to walk from one building to another to get to your next class. But above all of that, Spring signifies the return of baseball. For fans of America’s pastime there is not a more exciting time of year than now. The baseball offseason is a long and cold one, and it feels so great to be bringing it to a close soon.
Being a fan of baseball is great, especially if you are a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals franchise is one of the most accomplished in the history of the game, and the success of the team over the last decade has truly been a treat to watch for fans of the Redbirds. It is, however, not unreasonable to be concerned about the future of the team. After what has been a tremendous and lengthy run of success, the Cardinals enter the 2016 season with perhaps the most questions in recent memory. Many of these questions are exacerbated by the fact that the Cubs, a long time division rival of the Cardinals, have seemingly finally put all of the pieces together and have positioned themselves as a formidable foe. Another division rival, the Pirates, also cannot be ignored, as they also boast a team that is strong enough to walk away as winners of the division. As uncertainty looms in the minds of Cardinals fans, it is important to analyze the team based on the players who are likely to be on it.
The 2016 Cardinals baseball season will certainly be an interesting one, and it will feature a plethora of quality players to watch. Amongst those players are the starting pitchers. Based on the most up to date rosters and perhaps even on some educated guessing, here is a preview of what to expect for the 2016 Cardinals in regards to starting pitchers.
The Starting Five
There may not be a more important group of guys on a team that the starting pitching rotation. These are the guys that more often than not decide who wins and who loses in a playoff series. The Cardinals starting five is loaded with talent, but it is also loaded with question marks. The loss of Lance Lynn to Tommy John surgery and the loss of John Lackey as he signed with the Cubs pose serious potential problems for the club. However, the offseason addition of Mike Leake and the return of Adam Wainwright offer hope. Here are the five guys who are projected to be members of the 2016 rotation:
1.) Adam Wainwright
After missing the majority of last season due to injury, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright is well rested and hopefully ready to resume his dominance of the opposition. When healthy, Wainwright has arguably been a top five pitcher in the entire game of baseball. Although at 34 years of age he is certainly approaching a point where he will start to decline, it is not unreasonable to expect at least a few more good years out of Wainwright, as long as he remains healthy.
2.) Carlos Martinez
Before he went down with an injury near the end of last season, Martinez was having a breakthrough year. Martinez compiled a 14-7 record with a 3.01 ERA and 184 strikeouts. Like Wainwright, if he can remain healthy, he could be a dominating force for the Cardinals. It’s not unreasonable to expect Martinez to have an even better year than last, since he is still maturing at the young age of 24.
3.) Jaime Garcia
There are legitimate concerns about the health of Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martinez. Wainwright is aging and has gone down to injury a few times before. Martinez suffered a shoulder injury, which is one of the most potentially lethal injuries for a pitcher. However, the injury concerns of those two come nowhere close to the concerns raised by Jaime Garcia. Garcia offers incredible value to the club. One of the main benefits of Garcia is the fact that he is a left handed pitcher. Another benefit is that the movement on some of his pitches is arguably the best out of the entire rotation. As baseball analysts often phrase it, he has the best “stuff” in the entire rotation. The problem, however, is that Garcia is about as fragile as a thin sheet of glass. Garcia has dealt with injuries for the last several years. He only started 20 games last season, and that was the first time that he had even started more than 10 games in a single season since 2012. The Cardinals are definitely aware of the fact that Garcia is a huge gamble. But if the gamble pays off, Garcia could be yet another excellent pitcher on the staff.
4.) Michael Wacha
A rough finish to his first full big league campaign last year really has overshadowed the fact that overall Wacha had a solid year, with a 17-7 record and a 3.38 ERA. Wacha, like Martinez, is very young still and is adjusting to the big leagues. The challenge for Wacha this year will be to prove that he can handle the grind of a full season without deteriorating around playoff time. So far Wacha has had a terrific big league career, and fatigue should be the only thing standing in the way of him having a solid season. If he were to be the number 4 starter for the Cardinals, you may not find a better number 4 starter in the game.
5.) Mike Leake
Finally, we have reached the last spot in the rotation, and it features a foreign face. The Cardinals signed Mike Leake to a large five-year contract in the offseason, primarily due to the loss of Lance Lynn and due to their unsuccessful bid for ace David Price. Leake has a proven track record of consistency. You know what you’re going to get with him. He may not pitch to a sub-3.00 ERA and he may not strike out 200 batters, but he will pitch well enough to give his team the chance to win in most of his starts. Leake may by default be the most reliable pitcher in the starting rotation due to injury concerns with the rest of the staff.
With the Cubs posing a massive offensive threat, the Cardinals will have to rely heavily on their starting pitching in order to be successful in 2016. They have the potential to contain one of the best all-around pitching staffs in the game. However, the team also has arguably the most question marks of any team in regards to their starters. The success of the 2016 Cardinals may come down to whether or not their starters stay healthy, but if they do, this should be a very fun team to watch.
(Featured image retrieved from: “Grantland.com”)