HOUSTON,TX-JUNE 06: Jason Motte #30 of the St. Louis Cardinals shakes hands with catcher Yadier Molina #2 after the final out as St. Louis defeated Houston 4-3 on June 6, 2012 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
People—especially broadcasters, so far as I can tell—like to roll their eyes at the particular adjective John Lowe chose in naming the Quality Start, since its outer bound is six innings pitched and three earned runs, but Adam Wainwright's near miss in Tuesday's win does a good job of explaining why it makes sense to put the psychological barrier there: Anything much less for a few games in a row, and baseball becomes unbearable for any fan with a rooting interest.
For about a month now—May 11, the start of that sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves, seems like an okay place to start—the Cardinals have been very difficult to watch. The bullpen's struggles have been a big part of that, but I think it's the starting rotation's weakness—Kyle Lohse still has the only quality start this month—that's really made that difficult to watch; it increases the innings the bullpen pitches, for one thing, but it also means you appear to be watching your team mount futile comebacks every night, backed by their lowest-leverage relievers.
The bullpen wasn't very sharp last night, save for Jason Motte, and Adam Wainwright didn't quite have a quality start. But he got close enough, and for me at least that made it possible to stomach all the lurching pitching changes and that brutal Matt Adams error.
With Jaime Garcia's arm still in doubt and Jake Westbrook on a losing streak dating back to the start of this extended slump, those could be more difficult to come by than they were before. But even with those issues, the Cardinals' rotation is better than it's been—if they weren't, I'd have stopped watching by now. As for those issues, the Cardinals have some contingency plans in place. Here's what they look like right now:
Chris Carpenter: It is a pleasure to report that nobody's reported anything terrible about Carpenter's arm so far. I don't think the Cardinals will count on him for another month-and-a-half, but if he continues to Progress Nicely he'll probably obviate the need for any Edwin-Jackson-sized move.
Shelby Miller: Unfortunately, the Cardinals' top prospect appears to have the same dead arm problem Garcia's dealing with—his strikeout rate is fine, but walks and home runs are up and his velocity is apparently down. (It's not surprising that his home run rate would go up in the Pacific Coast League, but it is surprising that he'd allow two per nine innings.)
I'm impatient to see Miller, but I think it'd take a solid month of dominant pitching and a long-term injury for the Cardinals to consider bringing him up after the first half he's having.
Joe Kelly: Miller's struggles have left Joe Kelly—sinkerballer, would-be reliever, azruavatar favorite—atop the pile in Memphis. He's got an ERA of 2.86 in 72 innings, with his usual ration of ground balls, and hardly any home runs at all. It's been a good year for Kelly, who's had trouble keeping his ERA and his walk rate down in his first three seasons of pro ball.
But it's also been his worst year yet with strikeouts—something that was already a problem back in 2011, when he was striking out just under eight per nine innings. This year that's down to just under six. I buy him as a prospect, but his numbers this year are a little too reminiscent of Brandon Dickson's for me. (And Dickson is on the 40-man roster.)
Marc Rzepczynski: I'm going to beat up this dead hobby-horse one more time, just in case it comes up later—I think the Cardinals are wasting Rzepczynski in the bullpen. While the Cardinals' second lefty is Sam Freeman is perhaps not the best time to bring this up, but with Lohse and Westbrook each approaching free agency the Cardinals should consider stretching Rzepczynski out, instead of bringing him in to give up singles to Brett Wallace.