Had Shelby Miller and Adam Wainwright done what they did over the weekend to the Houston Astros, it would have still been impressive. The fact that they did it against a good Colorado Rockies lineup makes the feat insane.
Thanks to Miller and Wainwright’s combined efforts against the Rockies on Friday and Saturday, the Cardinals tied the all-time record for consecutive hitters retired by one team (40). Fifty Rockies also went hitless between Dexter Fowler’s single in Game 1 off Miller and Nolan Arenado’s grounder up the middle in Game 2 off Wainwright.
Granted, the Rockies’ offense had been struggling entering last weekend’s series. But a bigger picture has started to emerge: The Cardinals arguably have the most versatile pitching staff in Major League Baseball.
Put yourself in the shoes of Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, or your favorite Colorado Rockie position player. One night you’re staring down the barrel of a loaded 95 mph fastball with late rise from Miller, and less than 24 hours later you’re being challenged by Wainwright’s breaking ball (which, for all intents and purposes, can only be described as “filthy nasty”).
Now, Jaime Garcia did struggle on Sunday, but at that point Colorado was due. That lineup is too good to be embarrassed three days in a row, and maybe Garcia was even due for a letdown himself. But when he’s on, he has a cutter that forces hitters to beat the pitch right into the ground. (It’s worth noting that some people, including my co-host Chris Duncan, call that pitch a slider.) Lance Lynn, meanwhile, has five pitches in his arsenal and Jake Westbrook’s sinker can be just as effective as Garcia’s cutter when it comes to producing ground balls. (Or at least it can be when Westbrook isn’t being shut down with inflammation in his throwing elbow.)
Granted, it’s not like other clubs don’t have a stable of starters that use different pitching styles to generate outs. But thus far, no team has been as effective as this Cardinals’ rotation. What makes their accomplishments to this point even more impressive is that questions followed this pitching staff into the regular season. Would Garcia and Westbrook be able to bounce back from injuries that cost them time in 2012? Would Wainwright revert back to the consistent starter that he was before his Tommy John surgery? Would Lynn need time to work on his delivery after dropping all of that weight in the offseason? How would Miller respond to earning a full-time gig in the rotation?
But those questions are being answered. Making matters worse for opponents is that Mike Matheny and Derek Lilliquist have an equally versatile bullpen. Edward Mujica has been perfect in save situations largely thanks to his splitter, which falls off the table at around 86-89 mph. But before opponents can even get to Mujica, they’ll either face straight cheddar from Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez or Joe Kelly, or a reliever in Seth Maness who has shown the ability to produce ground balls in just a short period of time.
It’s a long season, and we’re not even halfway through May yet. But if the Colorado series was any indication of how versatile this Cardinals’ pitching staff can be, the Rockies won’t be the only ones leaving St. Louis with their heads spinning.