Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and the St. Louis Cardinals' depth

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

If Shelby Miller had actually been hurt, this week might have been a little ominous.

Finally: A reason for the St. Louis Cardinals to drop Carlos Martinez off in the bullpen and then gradually forget they've put him there.

Thursday's game was a lesson in context; Shelby Miller's apparent health downgraded a game that had the potential to be totally disheartening into just kind of depressing. Martinez, despite stuff that's exactly as good as advertised—he hit 99 on PitchF/X 60 pitches into his start—and a Memphis ERA of 1.76, has never put together the kind of dominant stretch we expect from pitching prospects of his caliber. Of course, he hasn't really pitched much, either; he's moved all the way up in fewer than 250 stateside innings in part because he looks so good.

Which maybe explains why the Cardinals keep losing Martinez in the bullpen—it seems like he should be ready, but he's also got a high-minors strikeout rate of 7.5 per nine innings. If Miller were hurt, then, this would feel like all the pitching depth the national media has begun to discover unraveling before our eyes: Martinez isn't ready after all, Tyler Lyons has allowed four runs in each of his last five starts, and Rob Johnson, the Cardinals' most effective reliever, is stuck in a backup catcher role while Yadier Molina sits on the disabled list.

But instead of feeling like the beginning of the end, this one just felt like the continuation of something interminable—the Cardinals are one game over .500 since the start of June, and despite outscoring their opponents 311-243 over that time they haven't even consistently looked that good.

Given all that it's kind of a surprise that the Michael Wacha hype—one piece of Cardinals optimism that's been totally justified over the summer—had died down ahead of this weekend's call-up. In the six starts since his MLB stint, Wacha's peripherals have regained a little of the absurdity that sent him from getting his feet wet in the GCL to the high minors last year: 33 innings, 39 strikeouts, four walks. (And four home runs, which means they're also redolent of what Shelby Miller did last summer.)

On a short-term assignment, pitching for a team that's been underperforming for a while now, Wacha is in a position to claw some of that hype back. And much as I'd urge caution when projecting the Hall of Fame career of any one pitching prospect, at this point I'm willing to listen to a million sports-radio-caller paeans to trading Lance Lynn for a proven closer if it means two-out-of-three against the Cubs.

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