The St. Louis Cardinals have already clinched their division but still have a lot to play for, beginning Friday at home against the Milwaukee Brewers. Getting the best record in the National League would be nice, but Friday’s game also takes on an individual twist as well, with Adam Wainwright taking the mound in a bid to clinch the N.L. Cy Young award.
Tony La Russa won’t admit it, but he’s always been one to help and do whatever he can to see his individual ball players achieve personal success. Throughout his career as manager, he’s done all he could to give all his players the opportunity to put up the best stats possible, even if traditional managing might have rested a player or taken a pitcher out earlier in a tight game.
In Chicago, La Russa let LaMarr Hoyt battle out of jams to lead the White Sox and gain the 1983 Cy Young award by leading the league in wins (24) despite Ron Guidry (21 wins) and Jack Morris (20 wins) having more strikeouts and a better ERA than Hoyt, with just a few less wins.
Even Hoyt’s teammate Richard Dotson, at 22-7 with a 3.22 ERA may have had a rightful claim to the hardware, but Hoyt was the workhorse who had only one more start and 20 more innings pitched than Dotson. Hoyt was the guy La Russa featured as the identity of who the Sox were.
In a similar scenario 26 years later this season, Wainwright is in a battle for the Cy Young with a teammate in Chris Carpenter. While Carpenter has the ERA title locked up, Wainwright has the power pitching numbers with strikeouts (204) and leads the league in wins with 19 along with having the third best ERA (2.58) in the league. On
Friday, Wainwright will go to the mound in an attempt to become baseball’s only 20-game winner and if he does so, he should lock up the Cy.
On Thursday, La Russa pulled Carpenter out of a blowout game after five innings where he hadn’t allowed a run. In the process, Carpenter also had a career day at the plate hitting a grand slam and driving in six runs, a third of his career RBI total now.
Carpenter also passed one of the all-time great hitting pitchers, Bob Gibson, for most RBI’s by a pitcher in a game. La Russa may have been saving the delicate Carpenter from further work, but another shutout might have strengthened his case for the Cy.
It likely wasn’t an intentional pull, but it may be likely that he knows Wainwright’s stats and impact to the Cardinals are still superior to Carpenter’s even if he would have pitched a shutout.
La Russa may have put Wainwright in the drivers seat all alone by putting him in the spotlight as he goes for his 20th win. Should he lose, well, he still has all his strikeouts, a great ERA, and leads the league in wins.
As for third place, last year's winner Tim Lincecum has had another solid season with his ERA and strikeouts but failed his team in big games late this season, most notably against the Dodgers.
He was no doubt the most dominant pitcher in the National League this season, but couldn’t put the wins in the standings consistently. Blame it on the offense, defense, or anything else, but when it came to pivotal times in time of need, Lincecum failed to make it happen.
Wainwright has done enough to satisfy all the needs of voters with statistics and what he means to the team. In the Cardinals drive for the division title, before it was a runaway, Wainwright was a catalyst getting 11 wins since the July 7.
La Russa has put the ball in his court and it’s Wainwright’s to take on Friday. If he does win, it would be La Russa’s fifth different Cy Young Award winner for three different teams.
It may not be fair, but a pitcher’s lasting image to indecisive writers who vote right after the regular season ends goes a long way in determining who wins. Lincecum fizzled, Carpenter excelled with the bat, and it remains to be seen what the lasting image of Wainwright will be, but we‘ll find out Friday.