Eight words out of nearly 2,500. That’s all I devoted to the Cardinals in my trade-deadline wrapup, and I did not even mention by name the two left-handed starting pitchers they had acquired, Jon Lester and J.A. Happ. All I wrote was, “. . . even the Cardinals (2 percent) fortified their rotation” – the 2 percent referring to the team’s playoff odds on deadline day, July 30.
I was not alone in dismissing the Cardinals. Fan, media and industry reaction to the additions of Lester and Happ ranged from indifference to derision. The Cardinals at the time were 51-51, 9 1/2 games back in the NL Central, 7 1/2 back in the wild-card race. Yet they determined their solutions were Lester, 37, who had a 5.02 ERA with the Nationals, and Happ, 38, who had a 6.77 ERA with the Twins. And lest anyone forget, their ace, Adam Wainwright, was about to turn 40.
“I knew there were some jokes out there about the age of our staff,” Happ said, but jokes were only part of it. There was actual criticism, too. “You hear it. And I understood it,” Lester said. “I knew I wasn’t having a great year. Not many people trade for someone who has a 5 ERA and say, ‘He’s going to come help us.’”
Lester has, producing a 4.30 ERA in eight starts, including a 1.90 in his last four. So has Happ, whose ERA is 2.56 in seven starts if you remove his one-inning clunker in Cincinnati on Sept. 1. And so have three pitchers the Cardinals signed out of the minors after they were released – left-hander Wade LeBlanc, who helped stabilize the staff before suffering a season-ending elbow injury, and two relievers, righty Luís Garcia and lefty T.J. McFarland.
The Cardinals’ staff, mind you, still has the highest walk percentage in the majors, but that’s almost entirely due to its poor performance in the first four months. Since Aug. 1, the team’s walk percentage is the seventh-lowest, with the staff taking advantage of a defense that ranks first in the majors in both Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average.
We can sort out at a later time who gets the credit – the pro scouts who recommended the new pitchers, the executives who signed them, the coaches who revived them, the pitchers themselves. But on Tuesday night, the team that stood a 2 percent chance of making the postseason on July 30 moved into the lead for the second National League wild card, pushing past the Reds by a half-game and Padres by a full game.