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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

The Cardinal Nation Blog top stories of 2010 #7: Adam the new ace

Performance on the field in 2010 seemed to confirm the passing of the torch of ‘the ace of the St. Louis Cardinals’ from Chris Carpenter to Adam Wainwright.

This past season, Wainwright stepped up his highest level of performance as a professional. The right-hander not only topped the Cardinals in almost all pitching categories, but was among the National League leaders as well. Wainwright finished second in the NL in wins (20), ERA (2.42) and complete games (five). He tied for second in shutouts, was third in innings pitched and fourth in strikeouts, while allowing the third-fewest walks per nine innings.

After coming close in 2009 with 19 victories, this was the 28-year-old’s first 20-win season. It is a milestone Carpenter reached once, during his Cy Young Award season of 2005. Both Wainwright and Carpenter were named 2010 National League All-Stars. Adam tossed a scoreless inning in the July 13 contest, won by the Senior Circuit.

What Carpenter does possess that Wainwright does not is that Cy Young Award, though the younger pitcher is on a positive trajectory, having improved his placement in the vote in each of the last two years.

Wainwright moved up to second in the 2010 NL Cy Young Award race, this time behind Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay. The Cardinals starter received 28 votes for second, three for third and one for fifth from the 32 Baseball Writers Association of America voters, two from each NL city. Halladay took every first place vote for a 224 to 122 total.

The season prior, Waino had finished third with Carpenter second in the Cy Young voting, collecting 90 and 94 points respectively. In one of the closest three-way races ever, San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum won with 100 points in the balloting. It is worthy to note Wainwright had the most first-place votes of all candidates.

Though it appeared that the 2010 competition might go down to the wire, a late-season slump doomed Wainwright’s Cy Young Award chances. Between August 18 and September 14, he went 1-5 with a 4.73 ERA.

Despite that rough period, looking at the season by months, Wainwright was amazingly consistent. He won three or four games in each month from April through September/October. His ERAs ranged from a low of 1.85 in July to a high of just 3.09 in the final period. Wainwright’s 230 1/3 innings pitched was just 2 2/3 frames short of his career peak, set the year prior.

With that milestone 20th win accomplished on September 24 and his team out of the playoff hunt, Wainwright was held out of his final start for precautionary reasons. The precise problem was vague after the pitcher attributed it to simply having slept wrong on his arm. Reports of elbow tightness and a forearm strain followed, which led to an MRI. Rest was prescribed.

The 28-year-old Wainwright completed his fourth season as a major league starter while Carpenter is now 35 years of age, having become a professional back in 1994. The two will surely be pitching for the Cardinals this coming season, but the final passing of the torch would occur if it turns out that 2011 becomes their last year together.

Carpenter is under contract through 2011 but there seems no guarantee his $15M club option for 2012 will be picked up. The club could instead pay a $1 million buyout. Wainwright is under team control through 2013 with a below-market contract wisely negotiated by general manager John Mozeliak early in his tenure.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

How many combined games will Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter win in 2011?

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