Inconsistency. That is the key word to describe the Cardinals pitching through April, mainly about their pitching staff. A year after having by far the best ERA in baseball, they rank just barely in the top half of the league with a 3.88 ERA through the first month of the season. All eyes are on Adam Wainwright, due to his ballooned ERA and struggles locating pitches, but he is not the Cardinals only problem. Key free agent signing, Mike Leake, also sports an earned run average in the six-range, along with a 0-3 record.
The rest of the problems lie within the bullpen, in which the Cardinals have two young pitchers that have been excellent in past seasons struggle early on. Seth Maness and Tyler Lyons have pitched the least amount of innings on the pitching staff outside of the team’s closer, Trevor Rosenthal, yet have the highest ERAs out of the bullpen. Maness (5.79 ERA) has been great in his career at inducing ground balls that turn into double plays, for the most part, but has not had that same success early on. Some say that his luck seems to be running out, which is not out of the realm considering he is giving up a whopping 15.4 hits per nine innings. Lyons (5.40 ERA) has not performed much better than Maness, but his role on the team in the past is almost the opposite. He usually performs the long relief duties, but the redbirds have not been able to count on him in that role thus far, as he has pitched just ten innings yet has allowed three home runs out of the ten hits given up.
How the Cardinals address these issues will be up to Matheny, and depend on how the struggling players adjust. Wainwright has commented about how he feels amazing physically, the best he has ever felt, and that it is just the mechanics that he is struggling with and pitch location. Both Waino and Mike Leake will get ample opportunities to prove themselves to the Cardinals coaching staff. The bullpen guys however, may have a shorter leash. Maness has been around for a few years, so may get the Matheny favorable treatment and get a few more chances to show his worth. A guy like Sam Tuivailala may be someone the Cardinals look at, despite his struggles so far in AAA this season, for the sole fact that he has some major league experience.
This article is not supposed to be completely negative, as the Cardinals do have some guys flourishing early on. Both Wacha and Martinez have put up sub-three ERAs and are a combined 6-3. Through five starts, Martinez has only allowed 23 hits which is a good sign for him to get back to good form after being sidelined with an injury towards the end of last season. The fifth starter that has yet to be mentioned is Jaime Garcia. He has had some impressive outings, most notable the one hit complete game shutout against Milwaukee in the second week of the season, where he accumulated 13 strikeouts on the Brew Crew. With a ERA under four, Garcia could afford to improve his consistency and he should do just that, judging by his history (if he stays healthy).
For the rest of the bullpen, two pleasant surprises stand out to me early on. Seung Hwan Oh, otherwise known as the Stone Buddha for his calmness, has had an impressive start to his major league career. Formerly a dominant closer overseas, Oh has been the most worked pitcher out of the ‘pen with 15.2 IP, only allowing 8 hits, and striking out 20 batters. The other surprised has been wile veteran Jonathan Broxton. I have to admit that I was not a fan of the organization bringing him back, but it has paid off so far with him leading the team for lowest ERA.
There is definitely some room for improvement from this staff, but most followers of baseball built this staff up to such high esteem, that they were bound to disappoint eventually. If Wainwright figures out his mechanical problems, and Leake can be somewhat decent, the St. Louis Cardinals should be in fine shape to remain a contender in the NL Central.
**All stats courtesy of baseball-reference. Picture credits go to USA Today**
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