Author Archive

Matt Carpenter Must Be More Aggressive

If Matt Carpenter is known for anything in the major leagues, it’s for what hedoesn’t do: swing the bat. That may seem counterintuitive for a player generally considered to be one of the best hitters on one of baseball’s best teams, but it’s an accurate depiction of Carpenter’s approach at the plate. Last year, no qualified hitter offered at fewer pitches than Carpenter, who had only a 32.8 percent swing rate. Over the course of his three full seasons, his 36.1 percent swing rate is easily the lowest. In other words, approximately two times out of three, Carpenter watches the pitch go by.

To put it another way, some hitters swing at pitches outside the strike zone more often than Carpenter swings at pitches overall. It’s simply who he is, and it’s a large part of how he has managed to find success in the big leagues; over the past two seasons, he’s 15th in walk rate and ninth in on-base percentage. His patience has made him a star — he was one of only 15 hitters worth at least 10 WAR combined in 2013-14 — and it also has made him rich, as the Cardinals guaranteed him $52 million over six years through 2019.

With that kind of recent track record, it’s easy to think that Carpenter should just keep on doing exactly what he’s doing and continued success would follow. But despite the excellent on-base skills and overall value, a quiet truth of Carpenter’s 2014 was that his slugging percentage dropped more than 100 points from the year prior, and Carpenter turned from an elite bat into merely a good one. With an aging Cardinals offense relying more than ever on Carpenter this year, the numbers demand that Carpenter change his approach. Simply put, he has to swing more. He has to be, in some ways, the anti-Matt Carpenter. And he can start in Sunday night’s season opener (8 ET, ESPN2) against the Cubs. Read the rest of this entry »

Five Breakout Candidates For 2015

As we unveil the players ranked 51-100 in the 2015 BBTN 100, let’s also look ahead to next year and predict five unranked players this year who are positioned to land on next year’s list. This discussion won’t include top prospects like Kris Bryant, Joc Pederson or Noah Syndergaard because their talent is well-known and everyone expects great things from them.

Today we’ll focus on five young players who have already had a small amount of big league success and could find themselves with much-higher public profiles — and possible places in the 2016 BBTN 100 — after what should be productive 2015 seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

Are We Overrating Madison Bumgarner?

How much do October heroics count for, really?

For the San Francisco Giants, what Madison Bumgarner did for them last autumn added up to a world title. It took a lot of moving pieces to get that third title in five years, but easily the most important part was Bumgarner doing things we’ve never seen, at least on that stage. In 52 2/3 postseason innings, Bumgarner allowed a mere six earned runs, and he carved his name into baseball history by throwing five nearly perfect innings to close out Game 7 on only two days’ rest, after having thrown a shutout in Game 5.

It was without question one of the most spectacular postseason performances we’ll ever witness. So how much is that worth? That’s the question today, because Bumgarner stands out as ranking surprisingly high (third) in the BBTN left-handed starting pitcher rankings, ahead of such names as David Price andJon Lester. He’s up two spots among lefty starters from a year ago, and judging by some of the names he’s ranked above, he’ll likely place much higher in the overall rankings as well (he was 40th in 2014).

To jump that far in a single year would indicate he’s coming off one of the most spectacular years in baseball. Based on only a few October weeks, maybe that’s true. But what about the far bigger sample size of multiple regular seasons, or that his regular season was a pretty good one that stood alongside pretty good ones from a lot of other pitchers? Were we so blown away by a few dozen great innings of pitching that we’ve looked past nearly a thousand innings across his career? Let’s investigate.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Orioles’ Winter Wasn’t So Bad

So, could you feel the evident disappointment of Baltimore Orioles fans this winter?

Coming off a 96-win year, the O’s did what seemed like a whole lot of nothing this offseason. As Andrew Miller, Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz all departed for big contracts elsewhere, the only major league players Baltimore added were journeyman lefty reliever Wesley Wright, Padres castoff Everth Cabrera and former first-round bust Travis Snider.

Now compare that haul to the types of players added by Baltimore’s AL East division rivals, names such as (the aforementioned) Miller, Hanley Ramirez,Pablo Sandoval, Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada, Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin. Worse, with O’s GM Dan Duquette spending much of the winter engaged in an awkward — and ultimately fruitless — discussion about taking a job with the Blue Jays, the perception grew that he was more focused on his own career than improving the team.

Whether that’s a fair judgment of Duquette or not, it all added up to a less than impressive winter in Baltimore. Just a month ago, ESPN’s Jayson Stark polled baseball people about the offseason we just completed, and coming in second place for “Most Unimproved American League Team” was none other than those Orioles.

So this was a disaster, right? A big step back for a team on the precipice of making noise in the playoffs, just as the rest of the AL East is dealing with enough holes that this seemed like it may have been the time to strike, right? That’s the narrative, but it’s far too simple. For the Orioles, an appreciation of what was a quietly good winter requires looking a little deeper. Read the rest of this entry »

Beware Sal Perez’s Horrifying Plate Discipline

If you were to take a peek at the current average ESPN live fantasy draft resultsfor catchers, you would see some familiar names in the top five. Buster Posey is obviously atop the list, and Jonathan Lucroy just finished fourth in the National League MVP voting. Devin Mesoraco had a breakout season, and Evan Gattis‘ huge raw power might outweigh his strikeouts, at least in the fantasy world.

Sitting fifth, ahead of Yan Gomes, Yadier Molina, Brian McCann, Russell Martin,Yasmani Grandal and everyone else, is the Kansas City RoyalsSalvador Perez. Perez, who turns 25 in May, has increased his home run count every year he’s been in the bigs and saw his national profile grow exponentially during the Royals’ World Series run. He has a career .285 average and is one of only eight catchers with double-digit home runs in each of the past three seasons.

Based on that criteria alone, Perez’s high ranking looks to make sense, and that’s almost certainly why he is getting such respect in drafts. So why does it still seem so clear that he is being overvalued, perhaps to an enormous extent considering all the warning signs around him? Read the rest of this entry »

Odds Against Masahiro Tanaka Staying Healthy

After an uncharacteristically rough outing from Masahiro Tanaka in Cleveland on July 8 — 11 baserunners, five runs allowed, two homers — New York Yankees fans received the worst news imaginable: Tanaka, who had made the All-Star team and appeared to be worth every penny of the $175 million the Yankees had laid out to import him from Japan prior to the season, had to be placed on the disabled list after an MRI revealed a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, also known as the injury that generally leads to Tommy John surgery.

Rather than undergo surgery, which would have cost him most of the 2015 season, as well, Tanaka chose the path of rest and rehab, including platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections. After missing more than two months, he made two appearances in September — one positive (5 1/3 innings of one-run ball against Toronto on Sept. 21) and one much less so (seven runs in 1 2/3 innings in Boston on Sept. 27). He reportedly has had no problems with the elbow since, successfully completing several bullpen sessions at Yankees camp while hoping that the work he has done to strengthen the arm muscles around the ligament, along with changes in his delivery, will keep him whole.

For the Yankees, part of what appears to be a tightly packed AL East, there may be no player more vital to their success than a healthy Tanaka. That’s not only because he’s one of baseball’s best pitchers when healthy; it’s because with CC Sabathia‘s knee still acting up, Ivan Nova still recovering from elbow surgery, Shane Greene and Brandon McCarthy off to Detroit and Los Angeles, respectively, and Michael Pineda having thrown only 76 innings in the past three seasons combined, this rotation is more than a little risky. It’s not a stretch to say that the Yankees are contenders with Tanaka and hopeless without him — and unfortunately for both player and team, the odds aren’t in his favor. Read the rest of this entry »

Adam Wainwright, Enormous Draft Risk

Nearly two years ago in this space, we wrote about how Adam Wainwright‘s extension was a bargain, given the production he offered compared to the massive dollar figures other players across the sport were getting.

To miss a full season to Tommy John surgery and return without missing a beat while getting back up to speed — Wainwright’s 2012 featured baseball’s sixth-best FIP — is practically unheard of.

Wainwright did it, and then he kept doing it. His 2013 was the best season of his career and might have earned him his first Cy Young were it not for the historic performance of Clayton Kershaw.

In 2014, Wainwright did it again, putting up a career-best 2.38 ERA. He also leads all of baseball in innings pitched over the past two seasons, which doesn’t even take into account the 51 additional postseason frames he contributed. Some guys never make it back the same from elbow surgery, but the post-surgery version of Wainwright has continued to be among baseball’s best.

So when Insider recently put together a “Top 10 Starting Pitchers” list for a national television broadcast that didn’t include Wainwright, Cardinals fans were understandably displeased. When I explain right now why he shouldn’t be considered among the top 20 starting pitchers for 2015, I don’t imagine that reaction is going to improve. But there’s risk here. Lots of it. Read the rest of this entry »

Joey Votto Is Still A Star

Once considered a player worthy of a massive $225 million contract extension, Joey Votto has clearly seen his popularity drop considerably among the Cincinnati Reds faithful. A quick look recently at a popular online forum for Reds fans revealed regular complaints about the hitter Votto “used to be,” that he’s “declining,” that he’s “no longer a run producer,” and that he’s massively, incredibly overpaid.

Reds radio announcer Marty Brennaman recentlystoked the fires by suggesting that if Votto leads the league in on-base percentage in 2015, the team would somehow “be in deep trouble.”

OK, so that overpaid part might be valid — Votto is still due $213 million through his age-39 season — and you can understand the frustration to some extent, considering he hit only six homers last year and didn’t take the field after July 5 because of a pair of quad injuries. At 31, and with three serious leg injuries in the past three years on his résumé, Votto has probably put his MVP candidate days behind him.

But there’s a big difference between “probably not worth the money” and somehow being a detriment to the Reds’ hopes. Reports of Votto’s demise are painfully premature; the seemingly forgotten superstar can certainly be good again in 2015, but he really never stopped being good. Read the rest of this entry »

The Red Sox Will Be Just Fine Without An Ace

The last-to-first-to-last-again Boston Red Sox have completed yet another overhaul, importingHanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, as well as expecting full seasons from Rusney Castillo andMookie Betts, to reinforce an offense that sputtered to a 27th-overall wRC+ finish in 2014. But that’s nothing compared to the changes in the rotation, in which six of the nine pitchers who started at least 10 games last year are gone.

In place of Jon LesterJohn LackeyJake Peavy,Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Felix Doubront, the Sox head into 2015 with a rotation fronted by Rick PorcelloWade Miley and Justin Masterson, as well as holdovers Joe Kelly and Clay Buchholz. For a team that entered the offseason simply needing to find enough arms to field a team for the season, it’s an interesting collection of potentially useful arms.

That said, the idea of “Rick Porcello, Opening Day starter” isn’t exactly going to sell tickets, and that’s the main criticism leveled at Boston this winter: “Where’s the ace?!” Having whiffed on the chance to bring Lester back and so far unable to satisfy Philadelphia’s demands for Cole Hamels, the Red Sox don’t appear to have the guy needed to make a postseason run. Maybe they don’t, but maybe they don’t need to. Here’s why the Red Sox are just fine the way they are — for now, at least. Read the rest of this entry »

How The Phillies Can Maximize a Cole Hamels Trade

After stubbornly trying to hold on to the past long after their glory had faded, the Philadelphia Phillies have finally accepted reality, acknowledging that it’s time to commit to a rebuild and look toward the future. That process officially began when Jimmy Rollins, the best shortstop in team history, was traded to the Dodgers in December. Marlon Byrd soon followed him out the door in a trade to Cincinnati. Ryan HowardCliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon are likely to follow, if the team can find any takers. It’s going to be a long season — or two or three or four, for that matter — in Philadelphia.

Sooner or later, star lefty Cole Hamels is going to be on the move as well. Because Hamels has by far the most value of any of the remaining Phillies, a potential Hamels deal is the most important thing GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has to get right in managing this rebuilding process. He can’t get this wrong, because a misfire here could set the franchise back even further — and potentially cost him his job.

No deal currently seems close, with various reports indicating that the Phillies are being “unrealistic with their expectations,” asking not only for multiple top-level prospects but also for a team to pick up most or all of the $110 million Hamels likely will be due. (Though Hamels is guaranteed only $96 million, it’s widely assumed that he will insist on his 2020 team option to be picked up immediately in exchange for him waiving his no-trade clause, pushing the total value to $110 million.)

The Phillies are a team that is rich in dollars and poor in talent. Major League Baseball has done its best to limit the avenues by which teams can acquire young talent. So why don’t the Phillies make the tough but necessary call to offer not only to eat some of Hamels’ contract, but a big part of it?

Here’s a look at the likely return the Phils will receive in exchange for Hamels and the best next steps for Philadelphia. Read the rest of this entry »

Why The Projections Don’t Like The Angels

Last year, the Los Angeles Angels won 98 games, the third-highest total in the 54-year history of the franchise. They earned it, too, finishing second with a plus-143 run differential and baseball’s highest runs scored per game (4.7). They had — and have — the unquestioned best player in the game in AL MVP Mike Trout, who is headed into his age-23 season, they found a surprising breakout pitching star in Garrett Richards and they built an outstanding bullpen on the fly during the 2014 season.

Despite a disappointing showing while being swept in the ALDS against the Royals, it was a successful year for the Angels, and their main competition, the A’s, followed up their season-ending slide with a series of difficult-to-understand moves that may have set Oakland back. On the surface, the Angels would seem to be poised for another successful run in 2015.

And yet the projections don’t quite see it that way. Steamer, one of the most respected projection systems, has the Angels as only an 84-win team, five games behind the Mariners in the AL West. Have the Angels really done anything to make themselves 14 wins worse than last year? Probably not. But the projections can’t simply be tossed aside as frivolous, either — and here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »

Atlanta’s Incoherent Offseason

After years of winning division titles — 14 in a row from 1991 to 2005 — it’s been something of a slow decade for the Atlanta Braves. They’ve rarely been bad, losing 90 games just once since the streak ended, but they’ve also won only two playoff games and zero postseason series in nine seasons. After a disappointing 79-83 finish in 2014, good for second place but also 17 games out of first, the Braves fired GM Frank Wren, a move that club president John Schuerholz admitted had been a consideration for several seasons.

A change in regime would seem to be the perfect opportunity to start fresh and re-position the organization toward a successful first season in its new suburban stadium in 2017, a goal that team officials have quietly admitted is important. With two star outfielders entering the final years of their contracts (Jason HeywardJustin Upton) and more holes than a team on a limited payroll could fill in order to put up a fight in 2015, a new front office with a little bit of creativity and without the baggage of the recent past could easily make moves to limit the rebuilding period and get a competitive team back on the field in Atlanta as soon as possible. After all, just look at what new GM A.J. Preller has done in San Diego in just a few months on the job.

The Braves traded both of those final-year outfielders, sending Heyward to St. Louis and Upton to the Padres. If, at the end of the season, you had known both had played their final games in Atlanta, you might have expected that a full rebuild was in the works. But that’s not what’s happened. The Braves have weakened their 2015 roster while failing to fully commit to a rebuild, and the moves they’ve made symbolize a team that can’t figure out what it is or where it’s going. Welcome to baseball’s most confounding offseason. Read the rest of this entry »

The Quietly Great Cleveland Rotation

Some of the traditional American League powers haven’t exactly had a banner few months as far as rotation strength goes.

The Red Sox couldn’t bring back Jon Lester and had to settle for midrotation guys Rick Porcello,Wade Miley and Justin Masterson. The Yankees lost out on Brandon McCarthy and might not have a single healthy, reliable starter. The Tigers (without Porcello) and Royals are still waiting to see what Max Scherzer and James Shields are going to do. The White Sox added Jeff Samardzija but still have huge questions after him, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. The Athletics bid Samardzija farewell, the Rays dealt Jeremy Hellickson to Arizona, and the Rangers haven’t done much more than bring back Colby Lewis yet again and gamble on Ross Detwiler.

For many of those teams, there are more questions than answers. So in the meantime, allow us to present one possibility for the best rotation in the American League in 2015, a group of pitchers that probably didn’t come to the forefront of your mind. Let’s talk about the Cleveland Indians. Read the rest of this entry »

Reasons For Hope For Ryan Braun in 2015

There’s a pretty easy narrative to regurgitate about Ryan Braun. It goes something like this: After a disastrous 2013 that ended in July with a 65-game suspension for violating baseball’s performance enhancing drug rules, Braun came back in 2014 and had his worst full season, setting career lows in all three triple-slash stats, wRC+ and WAR. For many, it’s easy enough to connect the dots and leave it at that, arguing that Braun can’t perform when he’s “clean,” however you define that.

But coming back from PED suspensions hasn’t prevented Nelson Cruz or Melky Cabrera from performing well, and clearly Braun’s own actions have left him without the benefit of the doubt, which is no one’s fault but his own. But to merely take the 30,000-foot view and assume that Braun’s time as one of baseball’s best hitters is now over because of what’s happened over the past 18 months risks glancing past some very positive signs for Braun, ones that indicate he could still be a very productive player in 2015. Read the rest of this entry »

Yoenis Cespedes’ Name Value Exceeds His Trade Value

The Boston Red Sox have made two of the biggest splashes of the offseason so far by signing Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, and the only thing we know for sure is that they aren’t done. With potentially nine major league outfielders on the roster and a rotation that might currently feature Wally the Green Monster as the second best starting pitcher after the inconsistent Clay Buchholz, it’s clear that a talented-yet-lopsided roster still needs some work.

More than likely, that’s going to mean trading an outfielder. Maybe that will be Allen Craig or Daniel Nava or Jackie Bradley Jr., but the name that keeps popping up in rumors most often is Yoenis Cespedes, with the idea being that he’s be an attractive name and an established big leaguer who can help Boston land a badly needed pitcher. With Ramirez likely landing in left field and the trio of Rusney CastilloMookie Betts and Shane Victorino probably manning center and right, in some combination, Cespedes is now expendable.

Cespedes has name value, and there’s a whole lot of #narrative that says his departure from Oakland is what single-handedly sunk the Athletics’ season, even though we know that’s not actually true. His powerful throwing arm and Home Run Derby exploits could fill up the highlight films. As such, there’s a good chance Cespedes will be traded in the next several weeks. But when you look behind the headlines, what sort of player can another team really expect? And how much talent is that worth in a trade? Read the rest of this entry »

Yasmani Grandal, Catcher You Want To Have

When the Toronto Blue Jays made their somewhat surprising move to add Russell Martin, they didn’t just weaken the free-agent catching market. They decimated it. Sure, you could probably piece together a decent backup from guys like Geovany SotoNick Hundley or David Ross, but there’s no one close to being a full-time starter. Of the remaining free agents, there’s not a single one who’s even projected to manage even a lowly .300 OBP in 2015, according to Steamer projections.

That’s a considerable problem for some of the other teams that were expected to be heavily interested in Martin, like the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, because their paths forward are less clear now. In Los Angeles, A.J. Ellis is better than his .191 batting average would indicate, but he’s also nearly 34 and coming off several serious leg injuries. The Cubs might need to stick with Welington Castillo, who’s coming off a poor season. The Pirates will replace Martin with a trio of catchers more suited to be backups; the current Rangers starter is 30-year-old Robinson Chirinos, who has less than a full season of major league play under his belt.

It’s not a good time to be looking for a catcher, is the point, and the main trade options being talked about come with questions of their own. (Arizona’s Miguel Montero has had two consecutive bad years and is still owed $40 million; Houston’s Jason Castro followed up a breakout 2013 with an atrocious 2014; Atlanta’s Evan Gattis has excellent raw power but can’t really catch.)

The flip side, of course, is that if you have catching depth, you’re in a favorable position. If you need a catcher, you want to call the San Diego Padres, and you want to ask for Yasmani Grandal. Read the rest of this entry »

Now Is The Time To Trade Johnny Cueto

Back in February in this space, I wrote that the Cincinnati Reds needed to trade Homer Bailey for offensive help sooner rather than later. The reasoning behind that was simple — in 2013, the Reds had finished a middle-of-the-pack 15th in team wRC+, and their disappointing offseason had consisted of watching the very productive Shin-Soo Choo depart while importing only mediocre backups Skip Schumaker and Brayan Pena.

Instead, the Reds signed Bailey to a long-term contract and attempted to get by with what they had, ultimately winning fewer games than they had since 2008. Though it didn’t happen in exactly the way we might have expected — stars Jay Bruce and Joey Votto each had poor years, whileTodd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco carried the load — the offense was indeed a huge anchor, sinking to an 83 wRC+ that wasn’t just the second-worst in Major League Baseball, it was very nearly the worst in the last 50 seasons of Cincinnati baseball.

Nine months later, the Reds are again in a similar position. This team, as constructed, doesn’t look like a playoff contender. There are plenty of holes in the lineup and limited dollars to fix that. Once again, the most appealing Cincinnati trade chip is a top pitcher entering the final year of his contract. This time, the Reds can’t make the same mistake and stand pat. It’s time to trade Johnny Cueto. Read the rest of this entry »

Chase Headley, Potential Free Agent Bargain

Let’s start with a pretty obvious statement: Pablo Sandoval will get paid handsomely this winter.

There’s not much controversy about that remark, of course. Sandoval just put up three consecutive above-average offensive seasons that were nearly identical to one another — his wRC+ numbers were 118, 116 and 111 — and he’s valuable with the glove as well, along with carrying the “playoff-tested” label of having been a part of three World Series-champion San Francisco teams. Considering he just turned 28, it’s realistic to expect similar production from him for at least the next few seasons.
ESPN’s Keith Law suggested recently that Sandoval could get four to five years at $15 million per season, and FanGraphs’ crowdsourcing effort suggested something close to that, at five years for $80 million. Even those seem a little low, really. Either way, someone will pay for Sandoval’s youth and value on both sides of the ball at an important position.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But with Sandoval taking up much of the air in the third-base room, have we forgotten about Chase Headley, this offseason’s other main free-agent third baseman? Headley isn’t the offensive force that Sandoval is, and offense is what gets players paid. But is it really so unreasonable to think he might actually be a better value? Read the rest of this entry »

Who Could Be The Next Wade Davis?

When we talk about the still-controversial 2012 deal that eventually helped the Royals make it to the World Series, it’s generally referred to as “the James Shields trade.” Shields has been a huge contributor to the Royals (Game 1 of the World Series notwithstanding), but it’s easy to forget that he wasn’t the only piece the team got from the Tampa Bay Rays for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and others. The Royals also acquired Wade Davis along with Shields, and Davis has been an enormous piece of the three-headed bullpen monster that has made late-inning comebacks against Kansas City all but impossible.

Davis didn’t start out as a relief star, however. In fact, he didn’t even start out as a reliever. After two mediocre years in the Rays’ rotation, Tampa Bay shifted him to the bullpen, and he responded with a successful 2012 campaign. The Royals put him back into the rotation in 2013, where he was again disappointing, but sent him back to the bullpen this year. It’s a trick the team had pulled last year as well, getting an outstanding relief season from Luke Hochevar after five uninspiring years as a starter. Kansas City’s American League Championship Series opponent, Baltimore, also had three quality relievers in Andrew Miller, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz who had been shifted to the pen after many failed attempts to master a starting gig.

When pitchers are no longer asked to pace themselves for a six- or seven-inning outing, and can instead go all-out in shorter stints, the benefits are obvious. Velocity often increases, as it did for Davis and Britton. An ineffective secondary pitch, such as Miller’s changeup, can be discarded. This isn’t a new idea — even the great Mariano Rivera was once a middling starter — but it’s one that has yielded incredible success in the right situations.

So with that in mind, who might be the next Davis? Let’s identify a few starters, not older than 30, who have struggled in the rotation but remain good candidates to be successful relievers. Obviously, a Clayton Kershaw or David Price would be great in the bullpen as well, but they’re more valuable as starters. We’re looking for someone like Davis, who might not be equipped to help a team in the rotation but could be a lights-out reliever. Read the rest of this entry »

Can The Cardinals Count On Adam Wainwright?

Adam Wainwright is slated to start Game 5 of the National League Championship Series for the Cardinals on Thursday, which would normally be music to the ears of St. Louis fans. Wainwright has been one of the best pitchers in the game for a decade. He is probably on his way to another top-five Cy Young Award finish, and in terms of WAR, he already is one of the five best starters in the storied history of the Cardinals franchise. In fact, if he were to post another typical Wainwright season in 2015, he will jump to No. 2, behind only the legendary Bob Gibson.

But the 2014 postseason hasn’t gone so well for Wainwright. In Game 1 of the NLDS, the Dodgers pounded him for 13 baserunners and six runs in 4 1/3 innings, a performance that was overshadowed by Clayton Kershaw‘s late collapse. In Game 1 of the NLCS, Wainwright allowed nine baserunners over 4 2/3 innings in a game the Cardinals would lose 3-0, the first time in his career he has had back-to-back starts of fewer than five innings.

Two lousy starts against teams good enough to make it to the postseason would generally be considered merely a blip when compared to Wainwright’s long, successful history. But this might be different. Wainwright, who missed all of 2011 after Tommy John surgery and skipped a start in June due to what the Cardinals called tendinitis in his elbow, is on record as saying that his elbow is “not 100 percent,” even telling reporters “my arm doesn’t feel great” after the NLCS loss.

Wainwright is going to start a pivotal game Thursday, and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is saying all the right things about trusting his ace. But really, how worried should the Cardinals be? Read the rest of this entry »