Rejuvenated rotation gives St. Louis hope in NL Central
ST. LOUIS (AP) Carlos Martinez has two hopes for this season, one for himself and one for the Cardinals.
''The Cy Young and World Series,'' he said through an interpreter.
How Martinez fares at his first goal is likely to impact the second, as is the progress of the rest of St. Louis' revamped pitching staff - one that saw its team ERA balloon from a National League-best 2.94 in 2015 to 4.08 last season.
The Cardinals should enter this season with an abundance of starting pitchers, with Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha returning from injuries to join stalwarts like Martinez, Adam Wainwright and Mike Leake. Add talented newcomer Alex Reyes to the mix, and it's easy to understand why manager Mike Matheny hasn't ruled out the idea of a six-man rotation.
''We toy with everything,'' Matheny said. ''Don't rule anything out.''
Before St. Louis can pencil in a return to its pitching dominance of 2015, however, two starters will have to show during spring training they are indeed recovered from the physical ailments that cost them part or all of last season.
Lynn underwent elbow surgery following a 2015 season in which he went 12-11 with a 3.03 ERA, and the 29-year-old accounted for 60 wins for the Cardinals from 2012-15.
General manager John Mozeliak said the right hander could have returned for the final month last season, but the Cardinals preferred he take the entire season to recover and prepare as usual in the offseason for 2017.
By all accounts, that plan has worked - with Lynn saying he'll be ready to go when St. Louis reports to spring training in Florida in two weeks.
''He's a competitive guy, and he's fiery when he's on the mound and super nice when he's not,'' Mozeliak. ''I think that's an attractive personality, and I do think having him back being an active member on this team will certainly help.''
Then there is Wacha. The 25-year-old right hander was sent to the disabled list in August with shoulder inflammation, and while he did return late in the season, he finished the year with 7-7 record and 5.09 ERA. That came after Wacha was named an All-Star in 2015 on his way to a 17-7 record and 3.38 ERA.
Wacha spent the offseason strengthening his shoulder to prepare for this season, and Matheny said all reports on his progress have been ''positive.'' That said, he admitted how Wacha bounces back ''all comes down to whether that shoulder holds up.''
Wainwright was relatively healthy last season after missing most of 2015 with an Achilles injury, but the 35-year-old put together his worst full season with St. Louis - a 13-9 record and 4.62 ERA in 33 starts. He joked that he ''saved up an entire year's worth of great pitches for this year because I didn't throw any last year,'' and he'll be watched closely this season.
Wainwright has ceded the role of staff ace to Martinez, who was 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA last season. The 25-year-old has now won 30 games over the last two seasons for the Cardinals, and his place is likely secured at the top of the rotation.
The health and performance of the rest of the staff, including Leake in his second season with St. Louis and Reyes in his first full season, is what's likely to determine if the Cardinals can return to the postseason after missing it for the first time since 2010 .
''They say there's competition every year and it figures itself out,'' Lynn said. ''They love it we have a lot of guys who are capable of doing a lot of things, and you know you need that as you saw last year.''