In one of the most exciting games of the St. Louis Cardinals’ regular season, rookie pitcher Michael Wacha took a no-hit bid into the ninth inning of Tuesday’s game against the Nationals. In thrilling fashion, the Nationals broke up the no-no with an infield hit with two outs in the ninth, capping Wacha’s day. Trevor Rosenthal came in for the one out save, preserving the win for Wacha and the Cardinals. Wacha’s outing showed his immense potential, not only for the long term future, but also for the upcoming postseason.
As the Cardinals have clinched a playoff spot and have a commanding lead in the division, some of the focus has turned to figuring out the postseason rotation. Veteran ace Adam Wainwright seems to be the only one with an assured spot, with youngsters Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, and rookies Shelby Miller and Wacha vying for the other three spots. All are short on playoff experience, but Wacha is significantly behind the other three in big league experience in general, and he was probably seen as the long shot to make the playoff rotation, likely relegated to the bullpen. But after his wonderful performance this week, he has to be given strong consideration for a starting spot.
Wacha was dominant with a devastating combination of 2-seam fastball and changeup all night, but his game should be taken with a grain of salt. He is a relatively unknown opponent for most major league foes, and the scouting report on him will be expanded quickly, especially after his last start.
In May, Shelby Miller had a similar performance where he allowed a hit and then retired the next 27 batters in order for a complete game shutout. That masterpiece came in Miller’s eighth major league start, and Wacha’s recent start was his ninth in the big leagues. Sometimes when young pitchers have sparse scouting reports and dominant arms they can put together a game that makes them look like Walter Johnson. But it is usually just a teaser, as all young pitchers have their ups and downs. Consider the rough stretch Miller experienced in August this year after his brilliant start to the season.
However, while Wacha may very well never have a start as good as his last, the St. Louis Cardinals should take advantage of his hot hand and utilize him as a starter in the playoffs. A playoff rotation of Wainwright, Miller, Kelly and Wacha seems to make the most sense at this point. Moving Lynn to the bullpen would be a blow to his fragile psyche, but even with his last three encouraging starts, his overall inconsistency this year does not justify a playoff start. Miller has rebounded nicely the last month, and has been fairly consistent overall for a rookie. Kelly has been terrific in the second half and he and Wacha can go into the postseason with a load of confidence.