Although they converged on today’s game in wildly different fashions, both the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates entered Busch Stadium finishing lost seasons. The Cardinals roster contained one of the most formidable front end starting rotations along with two of the game’s best players in Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, and they will be forced to watch the Cincinnati Reds play in October. The Pirates have been by far the league’s worst team, entering at 55 games below .500 and waiting for the merciful end of a six-month death march.
At least both teams received some encouragement this afternoon in the form of two excellent performances from the starting pitchers, P.J. Walters of the Cardinals and James McDonald of the Pirates. Walters earned the win, going seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and a walk and striking out four. McDonald received a tough-luck loss despite allowing only one run in six innings (on an Allen Craig HR) and striking out seven against no walks.
For Walters, this was merely building on a successful minor league season. Walters threw just under 125 innings for the AAA Memphis Redbirds this season, compiling a 3.81 FIP in the hitter friendly PCL and a very encouraging 8.7 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 over that stretch. Walters doesn’t have much in terms of velocity – his fastball averages around 88 MPH – but he flashes a curveball, a changeup, a slider, and a cutter. With that arsenal combined with solid control, Walters has seen success at every level, most notably in 2009 and 2010 at AAA.
For McDonald, this is just more of the same. As I wrote about two weeks ago, McDonald has done his best impression of an ace so far this season, and although he probably yields too many fly balls to keep up this kind of pace, he’s showing the potential to at least become a top-half of the rotation starter, something that will be key to McDonald’s success. After today’s start, McDonald has struck out 61 batters and only walked 24 in his 64 innings as a Pittsburgh Pirate. It’s hard to imagine that Neal Huntington could have imagined much more when McDonald was acquired at the trading deadline.
Of course, each team did have a relatively poor lineup on the field today, as can happen in late September with expanded rosters. The Pirates, although they’ve played better of late, aren’t a good offensive team, and the Cardinals were sitting their superstars Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Still, these performances are impressive against Major League lineups of any quality, and both clubs must be very happy with their young arms today.