Forget it, Cardinal Nation, it’s over. The Cubs have wrapped it up, and the Redbirds won’t be able to catch them. Whatever adjustment Mike Matheny makes, whatever success Adam Wainwright has, Joe Maddon’s crew will not be caught up to in the fun department.
While Chicago is great at keeping things light and has an extraordinarily talented team, the actual division race is still up for grabs as Spring Training games start this week.
Sure, re-signing Dexter Fowler gives the Cubs a dynamic, well put together lineup. They’ll play great defense, Joe Maddon will have his players in their greatest position to succeed and their bullpen is outstanding.
My question about the Cubs throughout the off-season has been about their starting pitching.
While the Cardinals have questions regarding health, there is no question about their ability to win games at the major league level. Wainwright is 34, but threw only 28 innings last year. He says his arm feels better than it has in several years, and after his Achilles injury, there’s no reason to think Wainwright won’t be able to deliver his 162 game average of 210 innings, a 16-9 record and a 2.98 ERA.
Chicago’s top starter, reigning Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, turns 30 next week. Last season, he eclipsed 156 innings for the first time in his career, throwing 229 during the regular season and then 19 2/3 more during the post-season. Even though Maddon plans to limit Arrieta’s workload this spring and early in the season, it’ll be interesting to see how he performs in the second half after his stellar 2015 campaign. He has been great with the Cubs, going 36-13 with a 2.26 ERA since his arrival.
Still, I like Waino’s long term track record. Advantage: Cardinals.
Michael Wacha faces the same questions for the Cardinals that Arrieta does for Chicago.
While Arrieta faded in the playoffs, Wacha zoomed past his career innings high with 181 last season, and followed a September in which he had a 7.88 ERA in five starts with a disastrous 4 1/3 inning playoff start. Even with the bad finish, he went 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA. Can Wacha deliver a whole season?
Chicago’s number two is Jon Lester, who takes the ball every start, but has been an enigma lately. In his last five seasons, his ERA’s have gone from 3.47 to 4.82 to 3.75 to 2.46 to 3.34 in his first year with the Cubs. He’s solid, but what’s he going to be? We just don’t know.
Because of the questions about both, I call this a wash.
With Wainwright hurt last year, John Lackey became the Cardinals’ nominal number one starter and had a career year at 36. Now, he’s moved to Chicago, where teams hit 2.11 home runs per game last season, compared to 1.47 per game at Busch Stadium.
Lackey is a very good ground ball to fly ball pitcher, but those pitches that are elevated have a much better chance to leave Wrigley. Lackey turned 37 during the playoffs last year. Not many guys these days get BETTER after their 37th birthday.
The Cardinals will bring back Carlos Martinez, who’s on pace to be in the opening week rotation after a shoulder injury last year. Hard to imagine that Lackey is going to be better than Martinez, who last year was 14-7 with a 3.01 ERA and, at 24, definitely does have room to get even better.
The four and five starters are where the Cardinals really have a decided edge. Jaime Garcia has pitched well whenever he’s been healthy for the Cardinals, and last year he made twenty starts without an arm problem. He threw 129 2/3 innings and had a sterling 2.43 ERA, with a 10-6 record. Of his twenty starts, fifteen were of the quality variety. A healthy Garcia is an outstanding fourth starter. Chicago’s Jason Hammel is fine as a number four, giving the Cubs 163 2/3 innings last year. He was 10-7 with a 3.74. While Hammel is a legitimate fourth starter, Garcia is simply a better pitcher.
For the fifth spot, the Cubs will have a battle between Kyle Hendricks and Adam Warren, who came from the Yankees in the Starlin Castro deal. In 32 starts and 180 innings, Hendricks was 8-7 with a 3.95 ERA, and at 26 is improving. Warren was similar, going 7-7 in 131 innings over seventeen starts. Both have a chance to be terrific, and are great fifth starter candidates.
But the Cardinals have Mike Leake, who at 28 averages 211 innings and a 3.88 ERA (with home games at a bandbox in Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark) per 162 games in a six-year career. With all due respect to Chicago’s candidates, this has to go;
That’s a 4-0-1 advantage for the Cardinals. The Cubs should hit better, and both clubs should have terrific bullpens.
So while they’ll have more fun dancing, enjoying magicians and petting animals in Maddon’s petting zoo in Chicago, in St. Louis, they might have more fun pitching well.