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Cardinals' starting rotation leads major leagues in ERA
While other areas have struggled at times, the starting pitching has been consistent
ST. LOUIS -- A lineup anchored by Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday generates the buzz with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Since the start of the season, though, the rotation has generated plenty of wins.
Adam Wainwright's four-hitter against the New York Mets on Sunday night was the latest in a string of standout efforts, finishing a fourth series win of the year.
St. Louis' 2.45 ERA led the major leagues by a wide margin and starters permitted only four earned runs in 45 innings in a just-completed six-game opening homestand.
"It's a sign we can get the ball in the bottom of the strike zone," Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "I think everybody's got a solid approach and they've just got to stay with it."
Starters allowed two or fewer earned runs in all but two of the first dozen games, including seven scoreless innings by rookie fifth starter Jaime Garcia in Saturday's marathon, 2-1 loss to New York in 20 innings. The rotation's ERA was 2.09.
The four losses can be credited to a spotty offense that scored two or fewer runs four times and a bullpen that surrendered a pair of game-winning homers. The Cardinals stranded 22 runners Saturday, then left 10 more on base Sunday and were batting .216 with runners in scoring position.
Ryan Ludwick, whose eighth-inning, tiebreaking homer Sunday was his first of the season, believed hitters were trying too hard. Matt Holliday had an 0 for 16 slump that wasn't helped by battling flulike symptoms before going 3 for 3 Sunday with the help of extra pre-game hitting. Brendan Ryan (.171), Rasmus (.188), Yadier Molina (.205) and sub Allen Craig (.071) were struggling.
"I can see that," Ludwick said. "A lot of these guys care a lot, and sometimes that can lead to putting a little pressure on yourself."
The Reds and Brewers delivered knockout blows with Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan on the mound, and closer Ryan Franklin was 4 for 4 in save opportunities -- though with a 6.00 ERA.
"If you don't do it, somebody's going to notice and you're going to catch some heat," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "If you can't deal with it, you're doing the wrong thing for a living."
Nothing wrong with the rotation, which had delivered six straight stints of seven or more innings. Wainwright (3-0, 1.50) piled up 17 innings his last two outings, while Brad Penny (1-0, 0.64 entering Monday's start) and Garcia (1-0, 0.69) had been even stingier.
Penny got a one-year, free-agent deal as the replacement for 15-game winner Joel Pineiro, who got a multiyear deal with the Angels. The 23-year-old Garcia had been ticketed to start the year at Class AAA Memphis given he pitched sparingly last season coming off reconstructive elbow surgery, but beat out Rich Hill and Kyle McClellan in spring training.
Wainwright, a 19-game winner who was third in the NL Cy Young voting last year, and Chris Carpenter (2-0, 3.50), second in the Cy Young and the reigning NL ERA champion, are the anchors. Kyle Lohse (0-1, 4.15) has shown signs he's over an injury-plagued 2009 in which he finished 6-10.
"Our starting rotation has been outstanding, and we're going to need to keep that up," La Russa said. "Everybody's in a good place."
Wainwright trailed 3-0 after a shaky second inning Sunday, then buckled down and kept it close until the offense could respond. Colby Rasmus' game-tying three-run homer in the fifth ended an 0 for 18 drought, and Wainwright retired the last 11 in order.
"Yeah, he was sharp," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "I thought we rattled him a little bit early. After that, he settled in."
Timing no doubt has something to do with all those zeros. The Cardinals took two of three from the Astros minus Lance Berkman and with Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence mired in slumps, and two of three from the Mets minus Carlos Beltran and Daniel Murphy.
"So, we just have to look forward and not look back," Duncan said.