Adam Wainwright gets the ball tonight in St. Louis against the Pittsburgh Pirates, his first start since May. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to see Wainwright ever start a game for the Cardinals again, and certainly not while the team is making a postseason push, no less. The very thought is equally exciting and terrifying, but if he can be counted on for a few solid outings then that’s a not a trivial thing for a staff which has boasted only Miles Mikolas in the last few weeks as someone who began the season in the starting rotation.
And speaking of the postseason and Wainwright, here’s something that isn’t talked about enough: Adam Wainwright has been an excellent postseason pitcher for his career. Absolutely excellent. He’s pitched a total of 89 innings in the postseason with an ERA of 3.03. That’s better than Jack Morris, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez. And it’s better than his career regular season ERA of 3.30. That’s also with a 6.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But I don’t think this is a part of his legacy for whatever reason. Perhaps because there were a few memorable clunkers mixed in, starting with an awful Game 5 start in the 2012 NLDS against the Nationals before Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma, et al, saved the day.
Before that start though, he had been pretty much infallible in the playoffs. Everyone remembers him coming out of the bullpen during the 2006 run. He also pitched eight innings of one run ball in Game 2 of the 2009 NLDS against the Dodgers, a game that was ultimately blown by Ryan Franklin with help from some infamous fielding from Matt Holliday. That was not Wainwright’s only good postseason start to be overshadowed by something not so good. Before Mike Matheny saw fit to trot out Michael Wacha for the bottom of the 9th in Game 5 of the 2014 NLCS, Wainwright had pitched seven innings, only allowed two runs, and struck out seven. He out-pitched Madison Bumgarner in the very postseason that Bumgarner cemented his status as a playoff legend. But that should have been Wainwright’s moment. Instead, it’s mostly been forgotten and it remains the last postseason game he has started.
Backing up one season, when we discuss overlooked Cardinals postseason games, a lot of fans point to Game 1 of the 2013 NLCS against the Dodgers. For good reason, too. It had everything. Extra-innings, dramatic plays (Beltrán calling off Jay), and ended in walk-off fashion. But what preceded it, Game 5 of the NLDS against these Pirates, should be on this list and it’s because of Wainwright. He pitched a complete game, needing not much more than 100 pitches, while holding the Pirates to one run.
It was only the sixth complete game pitched by a Cardinal in the postseason since Bob Gibson’s famed 1968 season (and only the third in a decisive game). Courtesy of Baseball Reference’s Play Index, here is that list.
Regarding this series, for a while it was true that the Cardinals only had two opponents left under .500 (Reds and Tigers, although having lost 9 of 10, the Giants have joined this list) and they went 2-4 in those games after basically sweeping August. So trying to predict anything from this team is not an easy task. And, the Pirates come into town having won six of eight since we last saw them, including five in a row. Looking at Pittsburgh’s playoff odds, they’re only in a position now to play spoiler, and with the Cardinals’ own odds hovering near 60 percent (per FanGraphs) they have the opportunity to do just that.
It’s a big series. Anything less than two wins for the Cardinals would possibly put a not-small dent in their playoff chances. And then the Dodgers roll into St. Louis for four games this Thursday. So if the Cardinals can get off on the right foot tonight with Wainwright on the mound, that will be a good and cool moment for a whole host of reasons.
Per FanGraphs, here are the projected starters and the Cardinals’ win probability.
Tonight and Tuesday’s game start at 7:15 pm St. Louis time; Wednesday’s game kicks off just after noon.