Dominant Waino wants return to playoffs

ST. LOUIS – Starter Adam Wainwright believes the St.
Louis Cardinals are too good to be kept out of the playoffs. And he
plans to do everything he can to help the defending World Series
champions get back there again this year.

Wainwright
tossed his second shutout of the season Tuesday, helping the Cardinals
rebound from a heartbreaking 19-inning loss to the Pirates on Sunday
with a 7-0 drubbing of the Houston Astros at Busch
Stadium.

The Cardinals win combined with Pittsburgh’s
second straight loss to the San Diego Padres moved the Cardinals to
within just a half-game of the second Wild Card spot in the National
League. They remain eight games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the N.L.
Central Division race.

“You have Pittsburgh and
Cincinnati who are both ahead of us and both within striking distance,”
Wainwright said. “If we go out there and play our style of baseball and
execute like we should at the plate and on the mound, I think we’re
going to be there. I really do. I don’t think you can keep us out of the
playoffs if we play our brand of baseball.”

The
right-hander won his fourth straight start, improving to 12-10 with a
3.65 ERA in 25 starts this season. He allowed just five hits and tied a
career-high with 12 strikeouts in one of the most dominant outings of
his career.

A game after one of their toughest and
most demoralizing losses of the season, Wainwright proved to be the ace
that he. The right-hander got the Cardinals back in the win column by
doing exactly what he should have done against the worst team in
baseball.

Wainwright retired the first nine hitters
he faced before a leadoff single in the fourth by Jose Altuve ended any
chance at history. He allowed single hits in the fifth and sixth innings
before back-to-back hits with two outs in the ninth almost ruined the
shutout.

But with runners at the corners and two
outs, the right-hander fittingly ended the game with a strikeout of Ben
Francisco. He needed just 105 pitches to finish off his third complete
game of the season and second in his past four
starts.

“He’s been pretty impressive here for a
while,” said manager Mike Matheny. “It’s fun to watch him and I know he
loves to kind of take the lead with the staff and say, ‘Hey, this is how
we’re going to do it.’ I hope everybody else follows
along.

“He thrives on a big loss Sunday and trying to
right the ship. We talk about that stopper on your starting staff, that
guy that stops a streak when things are going in a bad direction and
turns it around and that’s what the really good ones do and Adam
certainly has earned that.”

No longer does Wainwright
have to answer questions about his recovery from the Tommy John surgery
that forced him to miss all of the 2011 season. He’s not having to
explain how each start is a process or promise the fans he’ll get
better, either.

The former 20-game winner is back,
and he’s been back for a while. Wainwright is 5-1 with a 1.58 ERA in his
last seven starts and he’s allowed more than two earned runs in a game
just once since June 29.

After starting 2-5 with a
5.77 ERA in his first eight starts, Wainwright noticed his arm slot was
too high, causing his pitches to not have their usual movement. He
corrected the problem during a between-start bullpen session in San
Francisco and recorded a four-hit shutout in his next start on May
22.

And that appeared to be the turning point in
Wainwright’s season. He’s 10-5 with a 2.85 ERA in 17 starts since. The
right-hander has 52 strikeouts and just seven walks in his past seven
starts and has allowed just 37 hits in 51 2/3
innings.

He doesn’t look like a pitcher laboring
through his first post-Tommy John surgery season. In fact, it’s the
opposite. He looks like a guy getting stronger and stronger with each
start.

“I’m absolutely not just trying to make it
though, I feel very good out there,” Wainwright said. “I’m going to keep
grinding and keep working out in between and running like I have just
to feel this way at the end of the season, but I feel strong. I feel as
good as I ever have at this point in the season. That’s the
truth.”

Wainwright won his fourth consecutive start
for just the third time in his career. He also became just the sixth
Cardinal since 1969 to throw a shutout and have at least 12
strikeouts.

But the right-hander doesn’t care about
his personal accolades or stats. His main focus is helping the Cardinals
return to the postseason for a second consecutive year. And he fully
believes they are good enough to do so.

“I just think
we have a very good team,” Wainwright said. “We were the World Champs
last year for a reason. Bad teams don’t luck into winning a World Series
and we have largely the same group here and we’ve gotten better in some
places. Some valuable experience earned last year but this year I think
we have guys who know how to win and know how to compete, we just have
to go out there and execute.”

The Cardinals improved
to 66-56 with 40 games to play. And if others begin to take after
Wainwright’s lead, the Cardinals could have plenty of wins left in them
down the stretch. They have the talent. Their ace is sure of it.