When it comes to winning championships, consistent pitching is key. Teams need an ace, solid support in the rotation and a dominant bullpen to make a deep playoff run.
Most of the elite organizations have one if not two dominant pitchers at the top of their respective teams and they each have a proven closer.
The St. Louis Cardinals have none of the above and they seem to be just fine with that.
Carlos Martinez, albeit electric, shouldn’t be looked at as a proven ace. He’s 42-27 since joining the club as a full-time starter, boasting a 3.64 ERA. These aren’t bad numbers by any stretch, but they’re still below baseball’s elite.
Clayton Kershaw – 18-4 2.91 ERA
Max Scherzer – 16-6 2.51 ERA
Zack Greinke – 17-7 3.21 ERA
Based on these 2017 statistics, Martinez certainly has the capability to become elite, he’s just not there yet. St. Louis Cardinals President of Baseball Operations, John Mozeliak, is hoping this is the year Martinez breaks out.
Martinez is projected as the Opening Day starter for St. Louis, but there’s not a ton of assurance throughout the rest of the rotation.
Adam Wainwright is looking for a rebound year as his career nears its end. Michael Wacha hopes to show improvement after recovering from a shoulder injury that could easily resurface and Miles Mikolas hasn’t shown much in Spring Training at all.
The Cardinals signed Mikolas after Lance Lynn, who eventually signed with Minnesota, turned down a qualifying offer last November. Mikolas signed a $15 million deal over three years and management is entrusting him to anchor the back end of the rotation.
Luke Weaver fits in third or fourth in the rotation and might have the most upside of any of the Cardinal pitchers after bulking up in the off-season, which should help beef up his innings limit as well.
Mozeliak failed to go out and add an additional veteran arm to bolster the rotation and that’s a gamble he says he’s willing to take.
There were some rumors of St. Louis’ interest in both Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb, but it appears as though the team is content with what it has.
They’re putting faith in the young arms of Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson and you can certainly understand why.
Flaherty is having one of the best Spring Training performances of any pitcher in baseball striking out 31 batters. Reyes appears to be in good form, now it’s just a matter of how the Cardinals want to use him…and they’ll be cautious in their approach.
There are questions in the bullpen as well. Will Brett Cecil bounce back from a rough 2017? Can Tyler Lyons stay healthy? Who will ultimately be the team’s closer?
In years past St. Louis has had defined roles within the rotation and the bullpen. In recent years those roles have changed quite frequently throughout the season, most notably at closer.
Trevor Rosenthal and Seung-Hwan Oh are no longer with the team, they served as the primary closers last year. Luke Gregerson is still the favorite to start the season, but what will Sam Tuivailala and Dominic Leone bring to the table?
Much like the rotation, instead of going after a proven closer in the off-season, the Cardinals elected to stand pat and trust what they have within their system.
It’s a gamble the Cardinals are willing to take and it will look great if it pays off, but there isn’t nearly as much security as there would be had they traded or paid for a more experienced arm.
Fans might not be as excited as management is for the 2018 season, especially after the rumors of a deal for Chris Archer and Alex Colomé, but you have to understand the St. Louis Cardinals are playing for the long-term, beyond 2018.
The team has the talent in the system, now the question is, will the gamble pay off?
Nick Yahl covers the St. Louis Cardinals for 590 The Fan and you can find him on Twitter @NickYahl