It’s Cardinals vs Pirates Sunday morning, streaming on Peacock at 11:35 am. It’s early in the day — but late in the careers — of some key Cardinals.
One day a generation from now, fans may look back and count as many as five Hall of Famers from the 2022 St. Louis team (Pujols, Wainwright, Molina, Arenado, and Goldschmidt).
Before I go into context about the long-lasting battery, and brush away the obvious (Pujols); let me talk about the corner infielders.
Since 2014, there is only one player (Nelson Cruz) who has more home runs than Nolan Arenado. If you take into consideration his defense, his durability, all the top-10 MVP finishes; he’s well on his way to Cooperstown.
Goldschmidt: 285 HR, slash line of .294/.390/.521 for OPS of .911 and OPS+ of 142.
Freeman: 274 HR, slash line of .296/.384/.509 for OPS of .893 and OPS+ of 139.
Goldy is 34, and Arenado 31. The two of them need only to a) stay reasonably healthy and productive for another few seasons, and b) win a championship, or at least getting to the World Series. I wouldn’t bet against them, but it might not happen this year. As of Wednesday morning, Fangraphs has the Cardinals with more than a 41% probability of making the postseason, but only a 1.7% of winning the World Series.
One of the main reasons is that Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals’ Opening starter in 2020 and 2021, has been out all season with right shoulder inflammation. He’s on track in his recovery and is expected to return in early June.
Since 2018, Flaherty has held opponents to a batting average below .200 (.198) and his strikeout percentage is 29.1%. That puts him in the same neighborhood as pitchers like Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom.
And without Flaherty’s services in 2022 (and an injury plagued 2021), the Cardinals rotation has suffered.
Cards Starting Pitching ERA
15th in MLB
11th in MLB
9th in MLB
5th in MLB
The biggest problem with the St. Louis rotation is that Steven Matz has made eight pretty lousy starts. Matz made 29 pretty good starts for Toronto last year, and then signed a four-year deal with St. Louis in the off-season.
But if Matz is worse than expected; and Miles Mikolas better than expected; 40-year old Adam Wainwright is, well, he’s Adam Wainwright. And that’s pretty damn good.
The Wainwright Stuff
And now, a few hundred words on the great pitching career of Adam Wainwright.
But first, a word about two of the worst trades of all-time — the franchise that was part of both—and — don’t worry — we’ll get back to Waino!
John Smoltz was born in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up in Lansing. His grandfather was an usher for the Detroit Tigers. Smoltz grew up a Tigers fan, listening to Ernie Harwell. He was drafted by his hometown team.
On August 12, 1987, the Tigers traded Smoltz, still in their minor league system, to the Atlanta Braves for veteran starter Doyle Alexander.
Smoltz felt rejected by his hometown team. You know what he did. He went on to play 20 seasons with the Braves, building a Hall of Fame career as an accomplished starter — and closer.
Adam Wainwright grew up in Georgia, a real Braves fan. It was a dream come true for him to be drafted in the first round by Atlanta in 2000. He had been wearing Braves stuff since he was 3, he said.
In December of 2003, the Braves traded Wainwright (with Ray King and Jason Marquis) to the Cardinals for J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero.
You know what Wainwright has done. He is playing his 18th season as a Cardinal and 17th as an active player. Like Smoltz, he has built a Hall of Fame caliber career.
I spoke with Smoltz on Wednesday about the similarities and the arc of their careers. “I’ve loved Adam ever since I got to know him as a young kid,” Smoltz told me. “He grew up watching our staff, and I saw his engine…knew what he was made of. You just knew he was going to be special. What we got (in the trade that sent him to St. Louis) was temporary.”
By 2009, Wainwright was one of the best pitchers in the game, leading the league in wins, starts, innings pitched, and finishing third in the Cy Young vote. While Adam was in the prime, Smoltz was at the end. And they briefly intersected again. “When my career was finishing up, I called Adam—or maybe he reached out to me,” Smoltz recalled. “All I know is I’ve loved Adam since I met him, and to be able to join his team — his and Chris Carpenter’s team — in ’09 — well, if I couldn’t finish my career in Atlanta, it was an incredible ending for me to be with him in St. Louis. We have tremendous admiration for each other.”
Now, Smoltz is getting inspiration from watching his friend Wainwright pitch — and pitch well — in his 40s. “He’s giving old guys inspiration, it’s not a sport for old guys, but he’s showing you don’t have to throw 95, 96, 97 (mph). He was done. And then, he had that year last year!”
Adam Wainwright’s career numbers read like this:
188-108, with an ERA of 3.35.
His career numbers don’t exactly scream Hall of Fame worthy. His adjusted ERA+ is good, but behind several active pitchers that are having very good (but not immortal) careers: Wainwright is behind — just behind — pitchers like Kyle Hendricks, Zack Greinke, and David Price.
Wainwright has always had that fantastic curveball, his go-to pitch. He has mastered it. He’s still tough to barrel on. His Whiff percentage with the curveball is 20%. Last year, it was 26.8%. He’s one of the best in baseball at getting soft contact.
An ode to teammates
Now, Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina have been teammates for a long time. I believe the Elias Sports Bureau keeps two staffers on full-time to track just Wainwright/Molina records. This is the 18th season that Wainwright and Molina have been teammates. Only two sets of teammates have been teammates longer: Tigers Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell spent 19 years together; as did Yankees Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.
Molina and Wainwright have been a starting battery for 310 career regular season games, 3rd most in MLB history since 1901.
1. Mickey Lolich & Bill Freehan 324 starts for Tigers (1963-75)
2. Warren Spahn & Del Crandall 316 starts for Braves (1949-63)
The pain and pressure endured by both Wainwright and Molina is so impressive. Yadi has caught 17,837 innings in his career (third all-time behind Ivan Rodriguez and Bob Boone). That’s a lot of crouching. Wainwright has thrown more than 37,000 regular season pitches.
Wainwright has paid a price for all the pitches — he missed the entire 2011 season rehabbing following Tommy John (elbow) surgery. He underwent additional elbow surgery a few years later. The human body isn’t equipped to snap that many pitches, but the competitive Wainwright has always had the temperament and patience to come back — better than ever.
2009: 19-8, 2.63 ERA, 3rd in Cy Young
2010: 20-11, 2.42 ERA, 2nd in Cy Young
2011: out all year
2013: 19-9, 2.94 ERA, 2nd in Cy Young
2014: 20-9, 2.39 ERA, 3rd in Cy Young
2015: out all year except for 7 games (4 starts)
Wainwright led MLB in called strikes in 2021. 15 years earlier, he got Carlos Beltran looking to send the Cardinals to the World Series.
I compare Wainwright/Molina to some great combinations in other sports. Patrick Mahomes/Travis Kelce, perhaps? Is Waino/Yadi up there with Karl Malone/John Stockton? Peyton Manning/Marvin Harrison?
All I know is this. Of all the big games and big moments in their career together, it comes down a single inning of a single game.
Thursday, October 19, 2006 at New York’s Shea Stadium. It was Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
In the top of the ninth inning, tied 1-1, Jim Edmonds struck out. Scott Rolen singled. Yadier Molina hit the first pitch off Aaron Heilmann for a dramatic, go-ahead homer that put the Cards up 3-1.
In the bottom of that ninth inning, Wainwright came in to save the game. Jose Valentin led off with a single, on a 3-2 pitch. Endy Chavez singled and put the game-winning run (the series-winning run; the pennant-winning run) at the plate.
Cliff Floyd pinch-hit. Wainwright struck him out looking, on a 2-2 pitch. Jose Reyes lined out to center. Paul Lo Duca walked to load the bases and put the tying runs in scoring position.
The season came down to Wainwright and Molina against the Mets’ Carlos Beltran. Wainwright struck him out, on a called third strike.
Wainwright isn’t ending games any more, he’s starting them. He’s not at the start of his career, he’s at the ending. He and Yadi are close; and they have Albert on the team as well.
I know it’s less than a 2% chance of the Cards winning the World Series this year, but Wainwright and Molina have beaten longer odds than that, just to last as long as they have.
How to Watch Cardinals vs Pirates
Ke’Bryan Hayes and the Pittsburgh Pirates host Nolan Arenado and the St. Louis Cardinals in an NL Central showdown from PNC Park on MLB Sunday Leadoff live this Sunday, May 21 at 11:30 a.m. ET on Peacock. Pregame begins at 11 a.m. ET on Peacock. For all the information needed on how to watch MLB Sunday Leadoff on Peacock, click here.
Source: Yahoo Sports