As the St. Louis Cardinals continue their dominance in 2013, they owe everything to their starting five.
Despite injuries, bullpen struggles and one of the toughest April schedules in baseball, the Cardinals continue to show that they have what it takes to succeed this season.
Their starting rotation boasts the lowest ERA among all teams in baseball (2.97). The division rival Cincinnati Reds are the closest behind them with an ERA of 3.20.
The rotation also has combined for the most wins (39), is tied for the best WHIP (1.19), most complete games (5), shutouts (4), second-lowest OBP (.293) and slugging percentage (.355).
The numbers say it all.
This rotation is making a serious statement and is arguably the best in baseball in 2013. Following are five reasons why.
This unsung hero doesn’t grab a lot of headlines, but his impact can’t be overstated.
When longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan left the Cardinals prior to the 2012 season, many were concerned that was a loss the team couldn’t weather.
In retrospect, it worked out at just the right time.
Duncan was renowned for his ability to find flaws in the approach of struggling veteran pitchers and turn their careers around. Young pitchers weren’t his specialty.
The exact opposite appears to be true of Derek Lilliquist. He has taken a rotation and bullpen, literally, filled with players barely of drinking age and made them look like seasoned veterans.
Lilliquist definitely deserves recognition for what he and his staff have accomplished.
The Cardinals’ starting rotation is deceptively young.
While typically youth equals inexperience, that’s not the case in St. Louis. Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Jake Westbrook each have extensive postseason experience.
They’ve all pitched and succeeded on the biggest stage in baseball. That kind of experience is invaluable to a young team.
Shelby Miller, the rookie starting pitcher who has been everything the Cardinals hoped to date, has also pitched in a pair of 2012 NLCS games. The advantage there is that if he has the opportunity in 2013, he should have a good idea of what to expect.
Experience and youth is a powerful combination.
What the Cardinals lack in experience they make up for behind the plate.
When the young pitchers make it to the big leagues, their job is simply to throw what Yadier Molina says to throw. Those who follow that directive win games.
That’s about the size of it. Few in baseball do the amount of homework Molina does in preparation for a game, and that hard work pays off.
The team's record says enough.
He can read his pitchers and opposing hitters like few other catchers. The Cardinals know this, and so do their opponents.
He may not pitch, but Molina’s role in the success of the 2013 Cardinals cannot be denied.
Staff ace Adam Wainwright is on pace for a career year and has the poise of a man on a serious mission in 2013.
Even on nights when he struggles, he pitches with a level of confidence that he hasn’t shown in several years.
His return from Tommy John surgery, while shaky in 2012, has turned full circle in 2013. He’s going deep into games, shutting down teams and currently leads MLB in complete games (three).
Wainwright has fallen just short of a Cy Young Award on multiple occasions; this year, he looks like a pitcher who refuses to accept second place.
Aside from what he does on the mound, his role off the mound is to teach his newest teammates. As the rotation’s veteran ace, that responsibility rests solely on his shoulders, and he’s up to the challenge.
If he continues on his current tear, Wainwright could carry the Cardinals all of the way to October.
While all of the previously mentioned factors have played an important role in the team's starting rotation, none have been more important than its organizational depth.
Every time the Cardinals lose a pitcher, they drag out another rookie who pitches 98 mph.
While the strategy has its limits, so far it’s worked out nicely for the Cardinals. The fact that they still have more waiting in the wings says a lot about the organization and its strategy.
The Cardinals are breaking ground with their approach to player development and acquisition. General manager John Mozeliak has all but ignored the big names on the free-agent market in favor of younger, internal options.
This is true from the top to the bottom of the lineup. In 2013, the Cardinals are proving that this strategy can be quite effective.
The only question remaining is, how far can this depth carry the rookie Redbirds?
All statistics current through June 19, 2013 from MLB.com.