Cardinals Pitching Leads The Way In St. Louis

Here they come again. That’s what the National League has to be saying about the St. Louis Cardinals right now, who are holding a two-game lead in the push for the second wild-card spot as they head into tonight’s key series finale in Pittsburgh. That the Cardinals have played themselves back into position can’t be that big of a surprise given the caliber of this team’s offense and the fact there’s one more playoff spot available than last year. What does have to be considered a surprise is that it’s St. Louis’ starting pitching that’s carrying them…

The Cardinals are sixth in the National League in ERA, just one spot behind the renowned pitching staff of San Francisco. And if we look at starters’ ERA, they jump all the way to third, trailing only the Dodgers and the pitching-rich Nationals. Given the pitching environment that Los Angeles plays in, it’s not too much to suggest that St. Louis’ rotation has been the second-best in the National League.

How can this be? Chris Carpenter hasn’t pitched all year. Adam Wainwright was coming back from elbow surgery and got off to a terrible start. Jaime Garcia got hurt early. Lance Lynn was just yanked from the rotation after getting knocked around in Cincinnati on Friday night. Let’s run through the arms who are making it happen.

Kyle Lohse: The righthander was an unheralded part of this rotation a year ago and this season Lohse is 14-2 with a 2.67 ERA in 27 starters. He’s got to at least be vetted for Cy Young consideration, even if you don’t end up choosing him.

Adam Wainwright: Yes, he had the terrible start we noted above. In August he posted a 1.47 ERA and his season-long mark is 13-10 with a now-respectable 3.66 ERA in 26 starts. Given his recent form it looks safe to say the old Wainwright is back.

Jake Westbrook: I was critical of the Cardinals’ when they acquired him at the 2010 trade deadline and in columns and podcasts afterward made hay over the fact St. Louis fell apart down the stretch in ’10. The last laugh is on me. Westbrook is a steady veteran presence, with the same 13-10 record as Wainwright in the same 26 starts, and the ERA is a consistent 3.94.

Then we move to the three pitchers who have more or less shared the last two spots. Lynn might have worn down in his first year as a starter, but his 13-5 record and 3.89 ERA in 13 starts bought valuable time for Garcia to get healthy. And speaking of which, Garcia posted a 2.57 ERA in the month of August, suggesting he’s on his way back to the form that makes him a good #2 or #3 caliber starter. Finally there’s young Joe Kelly, who’s gotten eight starts and while the record is just 4-5, the ERA is a sharp 3.26.

We know St. Louis has got the offense. Whether they have the bullpen is going to be a big question these next four weeks and possibly longer. But they’ve got the starting pitching and that’s not something to make anyone in the National League real comfortable.