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Oh, yes, don't forget about Adam Wainwright

4/6/2015

Jon Lester free agent seduction! Kris Bryant spring training destruction! Bleacher reconstruction! New giant videoboard production! Cubs, Cubs, Cubs!

We've spent a lot of time this offseason hyperventilating about the Chicago Cubs. Hey, it's the Cubs, and any time they're good -- or potentially good -- they soak up national attention. That's understandable; all of us have at least a little corner of our heart that roots for the Cubs.

Well, maybe not St. Louis Cardinals fans, who take a particular joy in the suffering of the Cubs. ESPN announcer Dan Shulman had a great tweet before Sunday's season opener pointing out the Cardinals and Cubs have finished one-two in the league or division just once in 69 years. That, of course, is because the Cubs have mostly been bad over those decades.

So Cardinals fans had a good time, as they often do against the Cubs, as Adam Wainwright put the brakes on the enthusiasm of Cubs fans, throwing six shutout innings as the Cardinals won 3-0.

Lester couldn't get through five innings -- something he failed to do just twice all of 2014 -- done in by some shaky command, some bloop hits, some shaky defense and his own inability to hold runners. Lester famously never threw over to first base all of last year as he's obviously developed the yips in making that throw. Still, he allowed only 16 steals last year and only twice allowed more than one in a game. The Cardinals, however, stole three bases off him and Cubs catchers made two throwing errors.

Meanwhile, right fielder Jorge Soler did his best Dave Kingman impersonation in the outfield and Mike Olt, the guy playing instead of Kris Bryant, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

Wainwright, taking advantage of what appeared to be a generous strike zone from home-plate ump Mike Winters, didn't exactly carve up the Cubs, but then you see his linescore: six innings, five hits, no runs, no walks, six strikeouts. Wainwright finished third in the Cy Young voting last season but had minor elbow surgery in the offseason, then suffered a minor abdominal strain in spring training. It all added up concern about Wainwright heading into 2015 and a reminder that while everyone talks about the depth of the St. Louis rotation, that group still revolves around Wainwright being the No. 1 guy.

After all, he won 20 games last year, when he allowed no runs in 12 of his starts -- four more such outings than any other starter in baseball. He won 11 of those games and averaged nearly eight innings per start. Even Clayton Kershaw had only seven scoreless starts, Madison Bumgarner and Felix Hernandez each had five. When Wainwright is on, he puts up zeroes, and he's on as often as any starter in the game.

Yes, the Cardinals have Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, John Lackey and Carlos Martinez lined up behind him, with Marco Gonzales behind them and Jaime Garcia on the disabled list. But in what should be a tougher NL Central, the Cardinals need a healthy and productive Wainwright. Sunday night certainly provided optimism.

The Cards also had good games from Jason Heyward, the most underrated acquisition of the offseason, who had three hits, and from closer Trevor Rosenthal, shaky in 2014, who struck out the side. The Cubs, meanwhile, went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

For the first night of 2015, the Cardinals were still the Cardinals. The Cubs were still the Cubs. It's a new season. We'll see if it ends up being more of the same for these longtime rivals.