St. Louis Cardinals Rotation: Reason to Worry About the Redbirds

In Simmons' FootstepsContributor IJune 13, 2011

One month ago, it seemed as if the St. Louis Cardinals’ starting pitching rotation was one of, if not the, best rotations in baseball.  Guys like Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Kyle McClellan were exceeding expectations, while the ace, Chris Carpenter, had struggled to produce wins. 

In the month of May, the Cardinals’ starters combined ERA of 4.00, good enough for second in the NL Central behind the Pirates (2.80).  Don’t take that 4.00 for granted though; the starters combined for a FIP (a more accurate measure of runs that the pitcher is solely responsible for) of 3.33, fourth in all of baseball.

The Redbirds’ defense has not exactly been solid this year.  They have made 39 errors on the season so far, which ranks fourth in the NL Central.  The only two teams with more errors are the Cubs and Astros, whose defenses can be referred to as “catastrophic.”

Now, in the last 14 days (per FanGraphs), the Cardinal starters hold a 5.23 ERA and have averaged less than six innings pitched per start.  It’s not recommended to put a large workload on a bullpen that has been notably struggling in the beginning of the season (though, the bullpen has handled this very well; we’ll touch in this soon).

Take a closer, non-statistical look at these starts, however.  It appears to be one inning that kills a starter’s otherwise-good start.  At least, that’s been the case the past two games in Milwaukee.

Chris Carpenter took a 2-1 lead into the sixth inning Saturday night but left the frame down 5-2.  Carp made a few mistakes—note: FEW—and the Brew Crew made him pay for them. 

First off, he gave up a single to SP Zack Greinke.  Something that shouldn’t happen, but, in most cases, we’re willing to let it slide. 

Ricky Weeks followed that up with a home run that gave the Brewers the lead and momentum.  Carpenter went on to record two outs but then walked two straight to bring up Corey Hart.  Hart recorded a homer of his own, giving the Brewers a 5-2 lead in a matter of 15 minutes.

On Sunday, Jake Westbrook threw five innings of scoreless ball, appearing as a master escape artist as he avoided allowing runs in imminent run-producing situations. 

In the sixth, it was Rickie Weeks getting the Brewers going again with a single.  Mark Kotsay followed that with a double and Ryan Braun drove Kotsay in with a single.  Prince Fielder capped it off with a long home run to right to erase the 3-0 Cardinals lead and give the Brewers a 4-3 lead of their own.

So you can see, the Cardinals need to avoid that big inning.  Avoid that disastrous, blowup inning that can shift the momentum from one side of the spectrum to the opposite side. 

Give the Redbirds six to seven strong innings and then allow your bullpen to take it from there.  They’ve been pitching extremely well as of late, allowing just 35 hits in 45 innings pitched over the last 14 days.

What makes these Cardinals so frustrating yet so fun to watch is that they have yet to piece everything together.

In the beginning of the season, it was the starters carrying the bullpen.  Now, the roles have reversed.  Not to mention 384 separate injuries have been suffered by Cardinals players this season (all numbers approximate). 

So when the St. Louis Cardinals can get everything on the right track at the same time, one can only imagine what kind of damage they’re capable of. 

A World Series would seem to be a lock if that time period could be October.  Then again, they have to focus on making the playoffs first.