To say the St. Louis Cardinals are performing well below their standards to open the season is a vast understatement. With the worst record in the National League through 33 games, the Cardinals are off to an abysmal start to a year that was supposed to be promising. The team has a balance of veteran superstars like Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt and ascending young talent including Nolan Gorman and Jordan Walker. Everything was supposed to come together in year two of the Oliver Marmol. So why hasn’t it?
The biggest question mark on the roster entering the year was the starting pitching staff, and that was worsened with Adam Wainwright, the longest-tenured Cardinal on the roster, opening the year on the Injured List. The opening-day rotation of Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery, Steven Matz, and Jake Woodford left a lot to be desired, and the results have been lackluster. Only Montgomery has an earned run average (ERA) under 5.00. The staff has just six quality starts so far, which is in the bottom five of the league.
Wainwright has said this will be his last year as a major leaguer, and he is finally making his season debut on Saturday, May 6. He has been ultra-consistent in his 17 years with St. Louis, and his return should bring stability and pedigree to a pitching staff that is on life support. However, counting on a 41-year-old to boost the pitching comes with serious risk. Wainwright had just the second losing season (11 wins to 12 losses) of his career last year and his fewest strikeouts per nine innings since 2015.
Returning Wainwright to the lineup allows Jake Woodford to slide back into the bullpen when he returns from the injured list. Woodford had success last year as a primary reliever but has struggled greatly to start 2023. He has just 18 strikeouts in 30 innings pitched, has allowed seven home runs, and has no quality starts. In five starts last May, Wainwright allowed six earned runs in 32 innings pitched. A similar start to this season would be a significant step up in play.
The Cardinals have flashed offensive firepower at times this season, most notably in Gorman’s breakout start, but need more consistency. St. Louis possesses a lot of depth and talent in its lineup, and it’s only a matter of time before they get in a groove just as they have the past two seasons. Improvements at the mound, however, will be key to crawling back to where the organization expects itself to be in the standings year after year.
Rehabbing @Cardinals righty Adam Wainwright notches 9 K's in 5 2/3 IP for the @memphisredbirds: pic.twitter.com/0dhDPVGLGn
— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) May 1, 2023
Wainwright has been rehabbing in the minor leagues, and has strung together several promising starts. Right now, St. Louis doesn’t need perfection, it just needs stability. Uncle Charlie can be just that. At the very least, the Cardinals are returning a veteran leader to the clubhouse as they attempt to right the ship after a discouraging start to the year and gives the Redbird faithful something to get excited about. Counting on a 41-year-old to provide a major boost to a rotation is questionable, but St. Louis is desperate for any improvements right now.