Five things about the Rays Series

The Cardinals lost yet another series as they dropped two out of three to the Tampa Bay Rays. The loss today put the Cardinals at 4-9 since they ended their 8 game winning streak two weeks ago. They continue to be 4.5 games behind the division leading Chicago Cubs who refuse to run away with the division, which is part of what makes this season so infuriating.

The Cardinals will have a day off on Monday before a two game set in Milwaukee against the second-place Milwaukee Brewers.

The Sherriff locks it down

One of the great stories of the weekend was Ryan Sherriff making his Major League debut for the Cardinals. On Friday night he came up big, throwing three scoreless innings of relief that helped bridge the gap after a short outing by Michael Wacha. After walking his first batter, he settled in, retiring his next six batters. When he came into the game, the Rays were leading 5-3. He kept the margin the same, but the offense failed to come through.

After the game, Sherriff talked about how he kept thinking about his Dad on the mound. His father passed away in 2012 and Sherriff was ready to give up baseball. Convinced by his mother to return, here he was five years later making his debut, becoming the first Cardinals reliever to throw three scoreless innings of relief in his debut since 1998.

Thanks to Player’s Weekend, we also got to see a great matchup. Sherriff, who didn’t get to pick a nickname, faced off against Kevin Kiermaier who was wearing “Outlaw” on the back of his jersey. He got the Outlaw to ground into a fielder’s choice.

DeJong continues to hit

Count me among those who are surprised that Paul DeJong is still managing to be a productive hitter in the Major Leagues. He’s had a few small cold spells, but he seems to be making the necessary adjustments to continue to hit. Zach Gifford wrote about the small adjustments DeJong has made over at The Intrepid STL this week. Through Sunday afternoon’s game, DeJong has a five game hitting streak going and has hit in 19 of his last 22 games, hitting .347/.386/.611 with 6 home runs over that span.

Brebbia and Lyons stepping into Rosenthal’s shoes

With Trevor Rosenthal down for the count, there was some question who would fill his shoes in the late innings and so far there are two obvious choices: John Brebbia and Tyler Lyons.

Brebbia pitched two scoreless innings in the Rays series, the second escaping two walks to do it after pitching a perfect inning the night before. Since the beginning of July, Brebbia has a 1.85 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP.

Lyons on the other hand has now gone 16.2 consecutive scoreless innings and since the beginning of July has a 0.95 ERA and 0.47 WHIP. Since the beginning of July he has been one of the top-5 relief pitchers in baseball.

Garcia wants a job

If there is a plus to Jedd Gyorko‘s absence with his hamstring injury, it may be that Greg Garcia will get to play a little more. While Gyorko’s performance had waned over the past two months, Garcia has been strong. He has hit .319/.430/.431 in 40 games since July 1st. He went 3-for-4 on Sunday afternoon too to give him a .400 batting average over the past 10 games.

There has been talk that they may move Matt Carpenter to third base to give some playing time to Luke Voit at first base. I think Voit can be a valuable part of this team going forward with the opportunity to play, but it is good to see Garcia hitting well and taking advantage of this opportunity.

Offense can’t back Lynn

Lance Lynn went 7 innings and allowed 2 earned runs, being barely outpitched by his Rays counterpart Chris Archer on Sunday afternoon, but it wasn’t enough as the Cardinals’ offense came up short. All five runs of the game scored on solo home runs. It’s not the first time the Cardinals’ offense has failed to back Lynn up.

Since his start on June 29th, Lynn has a 2.32 ERA over 12 starts and the team has gone just 7-5. In 10 of those 12 starts, Lynn notched a quality start.

Rumor check: Lance Lynn

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted out the same article that suggested the Cardinals were players for Brad Brach with the note that the Royals were “aggressively pursuing” starting pitching, including Lance Lynn. It should be noted that Lance Lynn’s name is not mentioned anywhere in the article, but he made the link and so the rumor mill began.

The Cardinals have reportedly told teams it may both buy and sell over the next couple weeks as it tries to reposition it’s club to compete. That may include selling some pending free agents who they do not expect to bring back. That list includes Lance Lynn.

Lynn is 30 years old and has posted an 8-6 record with a 3.40 ERA in 19 starts in his return from Tommy John surgery that cost him the 2016 season. Lynn has struggled with the long ball at times this season, which is not unexpected for a pitcher returning from TJ. After a rough June, Lynn has thrown 13 consecutive scoreless innings over his last two starts.

Lynn had set himself up for free agency this winter with his previous deal that bought out only his arbitration years, though seemed to change his tune this spring when he suggested he hoped the Cardinals would entertain extension talks after the All Star break.

I suggested back in may that Lynn could command 5 years, $125 million in the free agent market. I also suggested that the Cardinals couldn’t afford to let him walk out the door. Never underestimate the value of the pitcher you can pencil in to provide you 200 quality innings, regardless of the prospects you have coming up behind. I love the idea of Carlos Martinez and Lance Lynn anchoring this rotation for the next five years.

Because of those contract needs, he is a slam dunk to be given a qualifying offer by the Cardinals if he finishes out the season with the club. That provides a floor for the type of return St. Louis would want to see from any Lynn trade.

The Royals are in third-place, three games out in their division and two games out of the American League Wild Card race and they’re looking at starting pitching options. They also have a number of their key players hitting free agency like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain.

If the Royals are intent on acquiring Lynn and taking a shot now because they see their window closing at the end of the year, they aren’t going to trade him for Major League talent. So don’t expect to get a Mike Moustakas or Eric Hosmer in return.

That means prospects. Their biggest problem here may be the lack of a top-100 prospect. And looking at their top prospects list, I don’t see much here that gets me excited. So me and the prospect list makers seem to be on the same page.

But the Royals are looking at significant holes in their roster next season and one would assume that they’d like to keep all the young talent they have to help fill those holes as cost effectively as possible.

In his chat though Derrick Goold suggested that the Astros are a better fit for Lynn because they have more prospects and they also may be willing to extend him before free agency. I’m sure Jeff Luhnow having drafted Lynn may help too.

For the Cardinals, this move would signal selling to me because regardless of Luke Weaver, Marco Gonzales, or Jack Flaherty, I have a hard time seeing this team being competitive in October without Lynn in the rotation.

So I think that the Cardinals are laying ground work for buying and selling right now. If they can’t find the deals they need to improve the team they have they way they like, they may try to move on some of these sales to help set this team up going forward. Either would make me happy.

But as far as this particular Lynn to the Royals deal, I don’t really buy it.

Five things about the Mets Series

The Cardinals took two out of three against the New York Mets to wrap up their first half at 43-45. They are tied for second place with the Chicago Cubs and are 5.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers.

After the break, they will play a three game set in Pittsburgh against the Pirates. They hold a 4-2 record this season against the Pirates, but have yet to play them in PNC Park.

DeJong’s historic series

For Paul DeJong, it wasn’t just a great series, it was a historic one. DeJong went 9-for-12 (.750) with four doubles and three home runs in a three game series against the Mets. That made him the first Cardinals’ player in Major League Baseball’s modern era to record 6+ extra base hits in a three game series.

On Saturday afternoon, DeJong went 4-for-4 with three doubles and a home run. That made him just the 7th Cardinals player since 1913 to record three doubles and a home run in the same game.

It puts a nice cap on DeJong’s return to the big leagues as he’s gone from Kolten Wong‘s injury replacement to the starting shortstop while hitting .345/.370/.701 with 8 home runs since returning to the big leagues on June 15th.

Wainwright gets his 10th win

Adam Wainwright allowed one run over 6 2/3 innings on Saturday afternoon to pick up his tenth win of the season. That has many fans scratching their heads since Wainwright has the worst season long numbers in the rotation and that brings the typical roar that pitcher wins are a meaningless statistic.

And while I disagree with they are meaningless, I will go as far as to say that they are greatly overrated. The only reason they aren’t meaningless? The object is to win the game, after all.

Forget pitching decisions, the Cardinals are 11-7 (.611 winning percentage) this season in games that Wainwright starts. No other starting pitcher has a winning team record in games they start. The next closest being Michael Wacha at 8-8. If nothing else, this should tell us that his 5.20 ERA is not the whole story.

In his 10 win decisions this season, Wainwright has a 2.70 ERA. In his five loss decisions this season, Wainwright has a 13.70 ERA. So when Wainwright is good, he’s very good. When Wainwright is bad, he’s very bad with those numbers being buoyed up by a pair of 9 earned run starts where he didn’t make it through four innings in either.

As @StlCrdsfn11 pointed out on Saturday on Twitter, Wainwright has allowed four runs or less in 14 of his starts and two runs or less in 10 of them. That mirrors the results of Carlos Martinez, who we are all ready to crown ace of the rotation.

Lynn makes no mistakes

After a quality start to the season, Lance Lynn has struggled a bit more recently thanks to the long ball. After posting a 2.04 ERA while allowing a home run ever 8.8 innings in his first six starts of the season, Lynn posted a 4.95 ERA while allowing a home run every 3.8 innings in his next eleven starts. He was able to keep the mistakes to a minimum while throwing seven scoreless innings and keeping the Mets in the park.

Pham responds to challenge

With the three Opening Day outfielders back on the Cardinals’ 25 man roster, Tommy Pham is seeing the first real challenge for playing time since his call up in May. He went 3-for-3 with a home run on Sunday afternoon to close out his first half at .299/.386/.510.

When Mike Matheny and the Cardinals dance around how they intend to divvy up playing time in the second half, Pham takes no prisoners in his response. He was asked about it and STL Baseball Weekly wrote about it. Pham is having none of it. He has been the Cardinals’ best outfielder this season and is not afraid to say it.

Brewers leading at the All Star break

The Milwaukee Brewers will lead the NL Central at the All Star Break. They have been in first place at the All Star break four times in their franchise history and half of those times, the Cardinals ended up winning the division. Further, the pattern works.

In 1982 the Cardinals won the World Series. In 2007 they did not. In 2011 they won the World Series. In 2014 they did not. In 2017? Well, the pattern seems to indicate that this is the Cardinals’ year.

Bonus: Electric cars don’t run on home run power

Dexter Fowler returned to the lineup on Friday night, batting third, and hit a home run. It was nice to see in his return to the lineup, but it had more meaning than just that. Here’s why:

https://twitter.com/aliyafowler/status/883495061576708096

He does not seem to be missing this opportunity either, as Aliya added on Saturday that Dexter had registered at Tesla’s website with her name.

Five things about the Braves Series

The Cardinals completed their second series sweep of the season as they outscored the Braves 21-7 over the three games, including a 10-0 curb stomping in the series opener. At 16-14, this is the first time this season the Cardinals have been able to stay above .500 for back-to-back games.

As a result, they find themselves second in the NL Central, half a game behind the Cincinnati Reds and half a game ahead of the Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals have gone 13-5 since returning home on April 17th after getting swept in new York City.

They will head to Miami tonight for a three game set. The Marlins are 13-17 and 3rd place in the NL East. They are a team looking to get back on track as they are 3-10 over their last 13 games.

Insert “Pham-tastic” level cliche here

I’ve already seen at least two since he returned to the big leagues this weekend following the injury to Stephen Piscotty. Tommy Pham was the first guy not on the roster exiting spring training and he had hit well in Memphis to start the season, but that was nothing to the show he put on this weekend.

Pham would hit a double in his first at bat this season and then add a home run in his second. He’d wrap up the series going 6-for-12 with a double, three home runs, and five RBI, including the game winning home run in the 14th inning last night.

It was good to see him hit the ground running in his return to the big leagues. I was hopeful that he’d put together a run like he has the last few times he’s come up, but stopped short of it being a foregone conclusion given how he wrapped up 2016. With Piscotty out of the lineup, Pham is playing for an opportunity to stick once he returns.

With Piscotty and Peralta likely due for return over the next couple weeks, it will be interesting to see how long Pham and Magneuris Sierra stick around. The organization has carried an extra pitcher since Peralta went on the DL, so they could change that. Regardless, Pham has made it clear that he intends to do his part to stay.

Don’t sleep on Grichuk

Randal Grichuk hit .353 with a pair of doubles and a pair of stolen bases in this series against the Braves. He had two hits in each of the three games of the series. He’s been a big part of the Cardinals’ current run. Over the last 18 games since their return from that New York sweep, Grichuk is hitting .299/.365/.448 with 8 extra base hits in those 18 games.

The bullpen is coming around

The Cardinals bullpen may still rank 19th overall in baseball with their 4.42 ERA, but over the past two weeks, they have posted a 2.83 ERA which has been the fourth best in baseball.

It was supported by yet another dominant series by the bullpen as they allowed just 1 earned run (thanks Brett Cecil) over 13 innings of work, that’s a 0.69 ERA on a 1.15 WHIP. Kevin Siegrist and Miguel Socolovich had good appearances in the series, which is a positive step for two guys who have struggled a bit this season.

Reviews not made

Twice in yesterday’s game Mike Matheny chose not to review close plays. The first was when Magneuris Sierra was picked off first base after his first Major League hit and the second was a Randal Grichuk attempted steal of third base. In both cases, at least the radio broadcast crew and Twitter seemed to think there was something worth reviewing there.

The Cardinals had the game seemingly firmly in hand with a 4-0 lead, but it makes me wonder if Matheny would have handled that differently had it been a closer game. If he’s letting off the gas because he’s leading by a few runs, that’s a problem. Hopefully he learned his lesson as that four run lead was erased by the Braves just a few innings later.

Four game winners

Lance Lynn and Mike Leake both picked up a win in the series as they won their fourth game of the season in their sixth start. That is the most wins in baseball among pitchers who have started six games. All four pitchers who have won five games this season have seven starts. Lynn will get his first crack at that fifth win Wednesday night against the Marlins in the series finale.

Beyond wins, Leake has been among the leaders in ERA this season, but thanks to his first home run allowed this season, his ERA jumped to 1.79, which is now only good for fifth in baseball. He was otherwise dominant, allowing just 3 hits and 2 walks in 7 innings of work.

Column: What does a Lance Lynn extension look like and should the Cardinals do it?

In recent weeks I’ve seen questions both in Derrick Goold’s weekly chat and Jenifer Langosch’s inbox feature about whether the Cardinals should entertain Lance Lynn’s interest in discussing an extension that would keep him in St. Louis beyond the 2017 season. In Goold’s chat, it was framed as whether, with all the young arms coming through the system, should they keep him? It’s a question that will likely consume John Mozeliak’s mind this summer as he considers how far he’s willing to go to bring Lynn back to St. Louis.

Derrick’s answer to that question was a resounding yes, because he can provide “known quantity innings.” His point primarily being that Lynn can go out there and throw 210 good innings in 2018 while you will most likely need an assortment of those young pitchers to fill those innings without him. There is a great deal of value in that, not just in having Lynn throw 200+ good innings, but being able to use those good young arms in other roles.

I agree with that and we’ll get into the why and what that looks like shortly. But I think Lynn is one of those players that’s easy to carry a biased opinion around on because of what you think about him from the start. Early in his career he was an emotional guy that was at risk of falling apart if things didn’t go his way. But more recently, he has matured into one of the best pitchers in the league.

The stats bear this out, since 2014, among starting pitchers who have thrown at least 400 innings, Lynn has been the 11th best pitcher in baseball by ERA+. He is tied right there with Madison Bumgarner.

Since he joined the Cardinals’ rotation in 2012, Lynn has 63 wins, good for 22nd most in baseball. Despite your opinions on pitcher wins, they are still a good thing to get. And that’s number is even with a missed season. Give him another 15 wins and Lynn is 6th. You give him 20 and he’s 2nd.

And through five starts this season, Lynn has a 2.45 ERA over 29.1 innings pitched along with a 1.09 WHIP. That’s his best start since 2012, his first full year in the rotation.

I feel like the fact he has come back as strong as ever following Tommy John is equal parts impressive and surprising. Even though he’s a few months further out than Adam Wainwright was in 2012, I still cringe when thinking about Wainwright’s start to that season. I cringe the same way thinking about Alex Reyes’ eventual return in 2018.

But I find it interesting that Lynn is even willing to talk extension with the Cardinals.

Before the 2015 season when he signed his current 3 year, $22 million deal, it seemed like a signal that he was going to go to free agency. At that point he had three arbitration years remaining and the deal only bought out those years. He left security and some guaranteed money on the table by not giving them any free agency years. Lynn was going to be 30 years old when he hit free agency and it was going to be one of his only chances to cash in with a big deal.

After Stephen Piscotty’s extension was announced, Lynn was asked about his contract situation. He said he hoped that the Cardinals would engage him in talks over the summer once he’s had a chance to prove himself healthy. It seemed like a change of heart. But perhaps not completely since free agent years when they start next year cost much more than free agent years when they start three years down the road.

In my opinion, Lynn has the numbers to be regarded as one of the top-15 pitchers in baseball. If he puts together a solid 2017 season and continues that, it should bring big money in a free agent period that sees himself and Jake Arrieta as the two main pitching targets.

To get an idea, we need to look at recent deals. Unfortunately, we have to go back to the 2015-16 offseason to find any kind of true comparisons because there just wasn’t anyone remotely close to Lynn’s age and abilities in last year’s free agency pool.

Jordan Zimmermann signed a 5 year, $110 million deal with the Tigers coming off a year where he went 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA and threw 202 innings with a 108 ERA+. At 29 years old, he was three years away from being a 19 game winner and just a season removed from a career year.

Johnny Cueto signed a 6 year, $130 million deal with the Giants coming off a year where he went 11-13 with a 3.44 ERA and threw 212 innings with a 118 ERA+. At 29, he was a year removed from a season he won 20 games and threw 244 innings.

Zack Greinke, the other comparison I’m bringing in, signed the mother of all pitching deals, scoring a 6 year, $206.5 million deal with the Diamondbacks coming off an unfathomably good 2015 season where he went 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA and threw 223 innings with a league leading 222 ERA+.

Given the start we’ve gotten out of Lynn, I think it’s fair to consider that he will put up something on par with his best seasons. Let’s use an average of the 2014-15 seasons. That puts Lynn at 14-10 with a 2.87 ERA and throwing 190 innings at a 131 ERA+.

That’s better than Zimmermann. That’s better than Cueto. That’s on par with what Carlos Martinez has done the past two seasons and we’re ready to annoint him the Cardinals’ ace.

So I think something north of what Zimmermann and Cueto got is a good target for what he is likely to get, especially given that it’s been a couple years, the 2015-16 offseason was littered with quality pitcher and the 2016-17 offseason was not. I think 5 years, $125 million or 6 years, $140 million is a good market target for what Lynn should expect to be able to get on the open market.

Knowing that, should this be an investment that the Cardinals make? In my opinion, they can’t afford to let him walk.

Yes, it’s true the Cardinals have plenty of well regarded pitching prospects in their minor league system right now. Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Austin Gomber, Sandy Alcantara, and I’m sure more whose names I don’t have on the top of my head. Even Reyes will be back at some point next year, but the rotation is in a fragile position.

Lynn is a free agent after 2017, Wainwright is a free agent after 2018, Michael Wacha is a free agent after 2019, Mike Leake could be a free agent after 2020, and Martinez could be after 2021. It won’t happen, but the Cardinals could turnover their entire rotation in five years. That’s a big ask of any organization’s minor league system.

Consider that if you let Lynn walk and Wainwright continues to struggle into 2018, how do you fill those innings? Let’s consider that maybe Wacha can’t escape his recurring stress injury. That’s three starting pitchers the Cardinals would need to produce in three seasons.

Obviously you can pencil Alex Reyes into one of those spots eventually, but I think it’s premature to expect him to be ready to contribute in the big league rotation in 2018. Wainwright wasn’t ready in 13 months. Marco Gonzales is just about 13 months out now and is getting ready to return to the mound. And he’s more of a crafty lefty than a 100 mph power pitcher like Reyes.

So the question of who fills Lynn’s shoes is very much open next season. And you could bet on depth, but with the questions coming up going forward, I think you commit to Lynn and Martinez to anchor this Cardinals’ rotation long-term.

I know many who would argue that they should go to free agency with Lynn and pursue Arrieta instead. But once you get to free agency, there’s no guarantee you can get a deal done and you might end up with neither of them. And given Mozeliak’s history in free agency, that’s a possibility.

If you can get a deal done with Lynn before the season is over, I think you do it. How does the old saying go? A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush?

Lynn has proven himself to be a very capable pitcher and I imagine that every team in baseball would like to have him in their rotation. So lock him up this summer and move on filling your team’s other needs. Like third base, even though Jedd Gyorko is playing out of his mind right now.

Column: Cardinals will need better pitching to win in 2017

It’s not shock statement. If the St. Louis Cardinals are going to make a run at the Cubs in 2016, they will need to get better pitching. Just a season removed from having the best pitching staff in baseball, the Cardinals stumbled to 12th in 2016 with an ERA over one run worse. That difference was a key factor in the Cardinals going from a 100 win division champion to an 86 win team that missed out on the playoffs for the first time in six years.

And it isn’t like 2015’s MLB best pitching staff had everything go their way either. The team’s ace Adam Wainwright made just four starts before an Achilles injury in April cost him most of the season. But John Lackey managed to have a career year, Jaime Garcia showed why he was worth keeping around, and everyone learned who Tim Cooney was.

The 2016 pitching staff ran into trouble before the offseason even got into gear with Lance Lynn out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Once the season started, Wainwright still wasn’t right, Garcia ran into a wall, and Michael Wacha’s stress fracture recurred.

And if that wasn’t enough, the defense struggled to consistently make outs. The Cardinals were 25th in defensive efficiency last season, a measure of how often players reach base when a ball is put into play. For reference, the Cubs were #1.

For some pitchers, like Mike Leake, that struggling defense cost him what was otherwise one of the finest seasons of his career. For others, it was just fuel on the fire of their struggles.

Improving that defense was one of John Mozeliak’s goals this winter and, for the most part, that has been accomplished.

Randal Grichuk, newcomer Dexter Fowler, and Stephen Piscotty should be a better outfield than what the Cardinals had this past season. Kolten Wong should improve the defense up the middle if he can prove himself worth playing everyday and Aledmys Diaz, who played much better once he settled in, should continue to improve. Justin Turner could have made it even better, but I digress.

The defense isn’t perfect though, the Cardinals will have either Jhonny Peralta or Jedd Gyorko at third base. Neither present a tried and true plus defender and I’m on record that I’d rather see Matt Carpenter at third everyday and Matt Adams at first base.

While the defense should shape up to be better, the pitching staff will now need to do their part in 2017 if the team intends to make a run at the playoffs, much less a World Series. There are questions in the rotation and, much like the offense last season, plenty of clutter that sets the stage for some difficult decisions. But here’s why I think positively about the rotation.

The fifth starter. The Cardinals have very much played coy with who the fifth starter will be in 2017. By all accounts it seems like it will be a three way competition for the spot, though it seems obvious who should get the opportunity.

Michael Wacha represents the path of least resistance. He struggled last year with a 5.09 ERA over 24 starts and 3 relief appearances. He would miss a month late in the season after his stress fracture returned. The organization seems uncertain what to do with Wacha as they were rumored to have included him in a trade offer early in the winter. Mozeliak indicated that they may need to reset the expectations of him being a 200 inning starter and has also hinted that they could use him in a role similar to how the Indians used Andrew Miller in the postseason. So at least the appearance of an opportunity for someone else is there.

Trevor Rosenthal has also been said to be coming to spring training preparing to start. The former closer lost his job last season due to ineffectiveness, but it was long assumed that guaranteeing him the closer’s job was part of convincing him to accept a move to the bullpen. Now removed from the role, it looks as if the organization is going to give him an opportunity to start.

Regardless of where Rosenthal pitches, his problem the last few seasons has been consistently throwing strikes. Now four seasons removed from his last start, I believe that taking him out of the bullpen, where his body has become conditioned to relief, will exponentially increase his injury risk. That transition from long-time reliever to start is what I believe effective resulted in the end of Kyle McClellan’s career.

As a result of coming from the bullpen, Rosenthal will likely need to be put on an innings limit in the rotation. And in my opinion, if you’re going to consider a pitcher with an innings limit on him, it’s clear that the guy should be Alex Reyes.

I’ve been critical of Reyes in the past as I don’t see him as great a prospect as many others do mainly because of his control issues and lack of dominance in the minors. However, he got the call last season and proved me wrong. He’s still walking batters, but has managed to be effective enough. In 5 starts for the Cardinals down the stretch when the team needed him the most, Reyes was 2–0 with a 2.20 ERA.

If Reyes does end up being the pitcher that I expect he’ll be, the Cardinals should go ahead and squeeze every ounce of effectiveness out of him now before the batters figure him out.

Lance Lynn. Lance Lynn is returning after missing last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He was reportedly ready to begin a rehab assignment in September if the option had been available to him, but the organization opted to shut him down and let him have a regular offseason to prepare for 2017. That is a positive sign for the team who will be relying on him to play a critical role in their rotation.

He has before, posting a 2.87 ERA over 379 innings of work in the two seasons prior to his surgery. Lynn will be almost 18 months removed from his surgery, which bodes well for hopes in Lynn’s performance next season. The only question will be whether he can push through a full season of work.

The guy that first comes to mind is Adam Wainwright, who had the surgery in February 2011 and returned a year later to the rotation. It took Wainwright into May and maybe even June before he looked to have a good, consistent feel for his pitches again and wasn’t a reliable starting option until the second half of the season, posting a 3.13 ERA over his final 12 starts. However, Lynn will be further removed from his surgery than Wainwright was and hopefully further along in his recovery.

Mike Leake. As I wrote last September, Mike Leake had an undercover career year last year. He posted near career bests in walks per nine, strikeouts per nine, home runs allowed per nine, line drive rates, and ground ball rates. All the fielding independent metrics represented a guy who was having one of the best seasons of his career. Instead, he had the worst.

He was probably the greatest victim of the shoddy defense behind him last season. Opponents had a .321 batting average on balls in play last season compared to a .263 just a season before and up from a .292 career average entering the year.

But because of those issues, he also stands to gain the greatest benefit from a better defense. That’s the key to Leake’s success. He’s not the kind of pitcher who will go out and dominate you, though he did a few times last season. He’s Dave Duncan’s kind of guy. A pitch to contact and let the defense make plays kind of guy. And if that defense is making the plays, Leake will have a good year.

Adam Wainwright. Adam Wainwright is perhaps the biggest enigma in the Cardinals rotation entering 2017. He will turn 36 in August and has two years remaining on his current contract. He is coming off the worst season of his career, posting a 4.62 ERA over 199 innings and an 89 ERA+. However, I think there is much to be said about the fact he missed most of the 2015 season while recovering from an Achilles injury.

Wainwright’s worst two seasons have both come the year after missing the most, if not all, of the previous season with injury. Those coming in 2012 after Tommy John and then this year. He spoke in May about discovering a large difference in his leg strength as a result of the injury and set about correcting it. After he mentioned that, he had a 2.84 ERA over his next 14 starts.

From 2013 to 2015, Wainwright posted a 2.61 ERA over almost 500 innings of work. His 142 ERA+ over that span was the fourth best in baseball among starting pitchers who threw at least 450 innings. The three pitchers ahead of him on the list are Jake Arrieta, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. That’s good company.

Even if you add 2016 to the sample, he still stays in the top-25. Lynn is 28th on that list. The next guy I’m about to talk about is 26th. Three of the top-30 pitchers in baseball? I like that.

Carlos Martinez. The only bright spot for the Cardinals’ rotation last season was Carlos Martinez. He was also the only pitcher who started more than 5 games for the big league club and provide above average results. His 3.04 ERA, 135 OPS+ and 5.4 WAR made him one of the top pitchers in baseball and the heir apparent to Wainwright for the title of “ace.”

By ERA+, Martinez was the 15th best pitcher in baseball last season. Over the previous two seasons, he’s 8th on that list, tied with David Price. And Martinez is six years younger.

Martinez may never have the outright dominance of a guy like Kershaw, but Martinez took big steps this past season to mature into the kind of pitcher you want on top of your rotation. He can beat you in multiple ways, even if he doesn’t have his best stuff. In fact, I felt there were games last season where he seemed to get some sort of sick satisfaction at intentionally not using his best stuff and still beating you. That’s a pitcher.

To me, the ace of your staff is more than just the guy who is pitching the best at any given moment or any given year. He’s the guy who is pitching well and has the track record of it too. In that fashion, the only thing standing between Martinez and being that ace — and perhaps even throwing his name into the conversation of the best pitchers in the game — is doing it again.

The Cardinals activate Lance Lynn

t was initially billed as just a 15 day disabled list trip to rest his forearm, and so it has been as the Cardinals announced today that they’ve activated Lance Lynn from the DL and optioned Tyler Lyons back to Memphis. Lynn will take the mound tonight against the Miami Marlins.

“I’m just looking forward to competing again. I’ve been out for two weeks and you never want to not be able to complete. So I’m just looking forward to getting back out there,” Lynn told MLB.com about returning to the mound. Lynn missed two starts while on the disabled list with a right forearm strain.

Coming into the 2015 season, Lynn was viewed as the team’s #2 starter behind Adam Wainwright. With Wainwright on the DL, that made Lynn the de facto ace of the team and the guy being depended on to throw a bulk of the innings. Losing him for longer than just a couple weeks would have been very costly for the Cardinals who are thin now after dealing with so many injuries this season.

Tyler Lyons was good enough in his two starts as Lynn’s replacement. He went 2-0, going 5 innings in each start, allowing five earned runs between them. It was a much better run than Lyons put together while bridging the gap from Wainwright to Jaime Garcia earlier this year.

Lyons was also good at the plate. Going 3-for-4 at the plate with an RBI and three runs scored. His hitting performance in his last start against the Phillies is arguably the best offensive performance by a Cardinals’ pitcher this season.

Lynn’s trip to the DL is concering

With the Cardinals’ history in the diagnosis of arm issues and the current state of their roster, Lance Lynn being placed on the 15 day DL by the Cardinals is extremely concerning. The official diagnosis was a forearm strain after having experienced some discomfort in his last couple starts. He had left the team and returned to St. Louis to undergo an MRI to help diagnose the issue.

In Lynn’s place, the Cardinals have recalled Tyler Lyons who will likely make both starts that Lynn will miss. Lyons was part of the bridge from Adam Wainwright to Jaime Garcia, making three starts for the Cardinals and somehow escaping any decisions with a 5.54 ERA over 13 innings. Since being demoted back to Memphis though, Lyons has pitched well going 3-1 over 4 starts with a 2.36 ERA in 26.2 innings.

In 12 starts this season, Lynn is 4-4 with a 3.07 ERA. He’d been enjoying a string of success while leaning heavily on his fastball. Last season, Lynn was the rock of the rotation as Wainwright and John Lackey dealt with bouts of dead arm and he was expected to anchor the rotation following Wainwright’s injury this year.

But by all accounts, the Cardinals being willing to park Lynn on the sidelines for 15 days raises concern. He will be eligible to come off the DL on June 23rd so that will probably be two starts that he will miss for the Cardinals. I believe his next turn in the rotation is June 25th against the Miami Marlins.

The good news is that John Mozeliak says that they are resting him purely for precautionary reasons and that he could probably have pitched through it. Lynn himself has said that he’s had this issue before and pitched through it.

I hope they’re right. It does make sense to take care of Lynn while you can right now while you have some breathing room in the standings, but it is a concerning situation. Especially as he becomes the tenth player to spend time on the Major League DL for the Cardinals this season.

You have to wonder how many hits the Cardinals can take. I don’t think it’s many more.