The Cardinals battlemented their rotation at the trade deadline by acquiring two above-average starting pitchers who haven’t missed a turn in the rotation all season. Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery will help. This is a better team now.

During the final round of trading, the Cards were the only team in the majors to acquire two full-time starting pitchers.

St. Louis added more starting-pitching innings — 217.2 — than any other team in MLB.

After the dealing stopped, Cardinals are the only team in the National League with five starting pitchers that have logged 100-plus innings this season: Miles Mikolas (132.1), Adam Wainwright (130.1), Montgomery (114.2), Quintana (103.0) and Dakota Hudson (101.0).

Montgomery moved to the National League when traded by the Yankees to the Cardinals. The Reds traded a 104-inning starter, Tyler Mahle, out of the NL and to the Twins. The Phillies acquired Noah Syndergaard from the Angels, and “Thor” is returning to the NL … but he’s worked only 80 innings this season. Jake Odorizzi comes to the NL for the first time, traded to the Braves by the Astros … but he’s logged only 60 innings in 2022.

I gave you that as background for what I’m about to tell you.

After the reshuffling, and through Wednesday, only 39 starters currently employed by NL teams have 100+ innings this season.

The renovated St. Louis rotation has five of the 39.

Considering the fragile condition of the STL rotation in recent weeks, this is quite a dramatic change.

During the first four months of the season the Cardinals used 11 different arms to start games. Injuries have limited Steven Matz and Jack Flaherty to nine and three starts, respectively. A misguided attempt to convert reliever Jordan Hicks into a starter led to mediocre results and more IL time for Hicks.

The rotation chaos stressed the bullpen and shook the team’s quest for consistency. Since Matz went down for the first time this season on May 22, the Cardinals rank 10th among the 15 NL teams in rotation innings.

The Cardinals were in dire need of stability, and Quintana and Montgomery are timely reinforcements. Though I remain skeptical, the Cardinals in theory could get Matz and Flaherty back into the mix before the end of the regular season. And though rookie Andre Pallante has moved to the bullpen for now, he’ll be available if the Cardinals need him to jump into the rotation.

Aug 2, 2022; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; St. Louis Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak speaks with the media prior to a game against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Mozeliak should have procured more rotation depth before the season – a failing that has been addressed here approximately 500 times – but the Cardinals are girded now.

Some fans and pundits are still harping over the absence of a big-name acquisition here, and perhaps the criticism will be justified in time.

I’m unmoved.

The starting-pitching market was tight. Some of the bigger names stayed in place including Carlos Rodon and Pablo Lopez.

The Reds traded Luis Castillo and Mahle for big returns, but Cincinnati and St. Louis were unlikely trade partners for obvious reasons.

Oakland’s Frankie Montas was a coveted rotation talent, and he’s under club control through 2023. The Yankees won the bidding, and now we’ll see how Frankie’s right shoulder holds up for the rest of the season.

Syndergaard has name recognition, but why should that matter. Good gawd. His velocity and strikeout pop is down after the two elbow surgeries that wiped out his two previous seasons.

This season Quintana has a better ERA+, better FIP, and more fWAR than Montas. But it’s also true that Quintana is a rental who can opt for free agency after the season.

Syndergaard and Montgomery have the same ERA+ (104), but that’s only part of it. Unlike Syndergaard, Montgomery is durable and under contract for 2023. “Monty” has a higher strikeout rate and lower walk rate than Syndergaard.

This season opponents have a .670 OPS against Montgomery and a .683 OPS vs. Syndergaard. Having a bigger name doesn’t always mean you’re a better pitcher.

Obviously, I believe Mozeliak came out of the trade deadline with a more rigid and capable rotation and didn’t have to part with any of the organization’s A-List prospects. I’m up with all of that.

How would this St. Louis rotation fare in the postseason? Well, it’s stronger than it was before Tuesday, but no one is saying this rotation is ready to pitch with the big dogs of the NL. To repeat, the time for pursuing a true No. 1 starter comes next offseason. But as for their starters after Mikolas and Wainwright, the Cardinals should be more persistent – and perhaps surprising – in that Jeff Suppan sort of way.

Oh, and the Cardinals actually have to make the playoffs before we can begin analyzing starting-pitching matchups for the postseason.

And that’s what it comes down to. These moves for Quintana and Montgomery made sense (easily) and should give the Cardinals an edge in the division race. Accordingly, Mozeliak deserves praise for his deadline work. According to Dan Szymborski of FanGraphs – creator of the ZiPS projection system – the Cardinals were the fifth-most improved team in the majors after the deadline.

That’s nice. But Mozeliak’s favorable verdict adds even more pressure. Milwaukee no longer has dynamic closer Josh Hader, who was bartered to the Padres in a payroll-related move. If the Cardinals can’t move ahead of the Brewers to win the division or don’t qualify for the postseason, Mozeliak will lose on appeal.

It would be incomprehensible for the Cardinals to miss the 2022 playoffs after:

Having the third–best collection of position players in the majors – behind the Yankees and Dodgers – according to FanGraphs WAR.

Having two of the top three position players in the majors – Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt – based on fWAR.

Ranking 7th in the majors in runs per game, 4.63.

Ranking 8th in the majors in preventing runs, with an average of 3.92 runs allowed per contest.

Having a defense that FanGraphs rates 3rd overall and 1st in the NL.

Receiving more than expected from the oldest player on the team, Albert Pujols, and an impressive rookie contingent of Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez and Pallante.

Trading for two quality starting pitchers to create the only NL rotation that has all five starters supplying 100+ innings.

Facing a remaining regular-season schedule that’s the second-easiest overall, and softest in the NL according to Tankathon.com.

The Cardinals aren’t a powerhouse, but they should be the best team in the NL Central. Failing to win the division would be an embarrassing disappointment. And if the Cardinals flop and can’t qualify for the postseason, this season will go down as a horrendous bust and a pathetic waste of the performances from Goldschmidt, Arenado, the rookies, Pujols, closer Ryan Helsley, the exquisite defense, and the upgraded rotation.

In that scenario, Mozeliak and his rookie manager Oli Marmol would have no excuses.

Thanks for reading …

Enjoy the Cubs-Cardinals doubleheader …

– Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.

“Seeing Red,” my weekly podcast on the Cardinals with Will Leitch, is available on multiple platforms including Apple and Spotify. Please subscribe.

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Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.