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A look at the top pitching performances since the last Cardinals no-hitter

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While no-hitters have increased across baseball, they have been absent from St. Louis since 2001, but this has not stopped the Cardinals from supplying some dominant pitching performances.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

On September 3, 2001, rookie St. Louis Cardinals hurler Bud Smith tossed a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. As far as no-hitters go, it wasn't a "great" one: Smith walked four batters, threw a borderline reckless 134 pitches, and was easily less effective than Jose Jimenez, also a rookie at the time, was in his no-hitter thrown in a pitcher's duel against Randy Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1999.

That the Cardinals, in just over two years, accumulated two no-hitters from rookie pitchers, and not even particularly hyped rookie pitchers at that, was an embarrassment of riches. But in the last fourteen-plus seasons, the Cardinals have regressed to the no-hitter mean.

To be clear, the lack of no-hitters since 2001 is about as minor as a grievance can get. In these last fourteen seasons, the Cardinals have had a losing record once, and have missed the playoffs just four times. If fans do exist who would trade sustained team greatness for one night (or day) of pitching excellence (though in some cases, such as that of Edwin Jackson, the term "excellence" is being used very loosely), I do not know any of them.

But given how good the Cardinals have been this century, it is still remarkable that there have been, in the MLB regular season and postseason, 44 no-hitters since Bud Smith threw the most recent one for the team. Twenty of baseball's thirty franchises have tossed at least one. Fourteen of the thirty, nearly half, have thrown two or more.

Seven pitchers have, since Bud Smith, thrown multiple complete game no-hitters (Mark Buehrle, Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay, Homer Bailey, Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer, Jake Arrieta), and two more have thrown one alone and participated in an additional combined no-no (Kevin Millwood and Cole Hamels). One-third of perfect games in the modern era have happened since the Bud Smith no-hitter. It all became so common. Just not in St. Louis.

Which is not to say that the Cardinals have not had some outstanding starts. By Game Score, a semi-arbitrary but overall intuitive and mostly eye-test passing metric designed by Bill James to rate a pitcher's performance, five Cardinals starts since Bud Smith have equaled his Game Score of 90, and eight more have eclipsed it. One of those starts happened this season.

IP H R BB K Pitches Game Score
Shelby Miller (May 10, 2013) 9 1 0 0 13 113 98
Jaime Garcia (April 14, 2016) 9 1 0 1 13 104 97
Adam Wainwright (May 20, 2014) 9 1 0 0 9 115 94
Chris Carpenter (June 14, 2005) 9 1 0 1 10 95 94
Matt Morris (September 3, 2004) 9 2 0 0 11 111 94
Chris Carpenter (September 28, 2011) 9 2 0 1 11 106 93
Chris Carpenter (September 7, 2009) 9 1 0 2 10 99 93
Adam Wainwright (April 13, 2013) 9 4 0 0 12 115 91

Additionally, Shelby Miller had a perfect game embedded within his magnificent start on May 10, 2013. After allowing a leadoff single to Rockies right fielder Eric Young, he retired the next 27 batters. If nothing else, Miller proves that a Cardinal can pitch a no-hitter. It just started a batter too late.

Miller's utter dominance gave him a Game Score which would put him in the upper one-fourth of no-hitters. The only five no-hitters since 2001 with Game Scores higher than Miller's 98 belonged to pitchers who were truly excellent at the time and who did not allow a walk during the game: Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, Randy Johnson, and Felix Hernandez.

But to get a real grasp of how many good, if not no-hit, pitching performances the Cardinals have had, let's compare them not to the greatest no-hitters of the era, but to the least-great one: the one Francisco Liriano pitched for the Minnesota Twins on May 3, 2011. In nine innings, Liriano walked six batters and struck out two. His fielding-independent ERA for the night, 4.66, suggests that he was outright mediocre, though Game Score gives him a bit more credit, and his Game Score of 83 is perfectly fine.

And even with a metric focused primarily on raw results rather than future predictiveness of what will happen, the Cardinals have had 44 starts since 2002 with a score of 83 or higher. Here is how many Cardinals pitchers have had.

Pitcher Times with Game Score over 83
Chris Carpenter 10
Adam Wainwright 9
Matt Morris 5
Jaime Garcia 4
Lance Lynn 3
Shelby Miller 3
Joel Pineiro 2
Kyle Lohse 2
Braden Looper 1
Chuck Finley 1
Jason Marquis 1
Mark Mulder 1
Michael Wacha 1
Woody Williams 1

Braden Looper! The two months of Chuck Finley the Cardinals acquired for minor leaguer/eventual viable MLB outfielder/80 grade baseball name Coco Crisp! Both of these pitchers had their moments with the Cardinals, sure, but neither is exactly considered on the inside track to the Cardinals Hall of Fame, even if my semi-apocalyptic prophecy for it comes to fruition.

And the essence of the no-hitter is that while there is certainly some correlation between overall pitching acumen and no-hitters, it is far from absolute. Roger Clemens never threw one. Nor did Lefty Grove, Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, or John Smoltz. It's a fun bit of trivia, but the Cardinals have survived just fine without them over the last fourteen-plus seasons.

But if they want to go ahead and throw one tonight, that would be fun.