Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  By STAN McNEAL  |  Last updated 9/8/13
ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- Talk about a wise investment. Not long after the Cardinals sent down rookie right-hander Michael Wacha in mid-June, they gave him a couple of extended breaks. He ended up pitching 27 13 innings in a seven-week stretch through July. He wasn't injured or in need of time off. The Cardinals wanted to bank some innings for the stretch. Well, the stretch has arrived and their decision is paying off. Finishing off what was as fine a weekend as the Cardinals have enjoyed at Busch Stadium all season, Wacha shut out the Pirates on two hits for seven innings in a 9-2 victory Sunday afternoon. The Cardinals never trailed in sweeping the three-game series during which they outscored the Pirates 26-10. St. Louis trailed the Pirates by 1 12 games when the weekend started but now lead by 1 12 games with 20 days left in the season. With the Cardinals off Monday and the Pirates in Texas to face Yu Darvish, St. Louis could have its largest lead in the division since July 26 by the end of Monday night. The Pirates, meanwhile, haven't won since last Tuesday when their 81st victory assured them of ending their record run of 20 straight losing seasons. When the Cardinals started the home stand, manager Mike Matheny was addressing concerns about a rotation that had seen everyone but Joe Kelly falter in recent weeks. "Our success and our struggles had been very closely tied with the quality of starting pitching we've gotten all season," Matheny said. They got nothing but high-quality outings from Kelly, Adam Wainwright and Wacha against the Pirates. The three starters allowed a total of one run in 20 innings, with each start more impressive than the previous. "I tried to tell myself I'm going to try and match what they were doing out there," Wacha said. With a few more strikeouts, he would have copied Wainwright's line from Saturday night almost to the number. Wainwright finished with eight strikeouts while walking two and giving up two hits; Wacha struck out only two while allowing the same number of walks and hits. When the offense broke through for five runs in the first two innings, Wacha's job became less stressful. Leadoff man Matt Carpenter -- who else -- led the way by scoring twice and collecting two hits and an RBI. In the process, he also set the record at new Busch for hits in a season (100) and added to his majors-leading totals of multi-hit games (56) and doubles (48). Carpenter had ample help, though, including two runs and two hits from Pete Kozma and Jon Jay, and two hits and another RBI from David Freese. "They came out with an edge and they never really lost it," Matheny said. "They can sense the excitement that comes with this kind of baseball this time of year. The guys who have been here before and won realize the pinnacle of this game is being able to play right now when it matters." It doesn't seem to matter to Wacha that he's a newcomer to pennant races. He has upped his scoreless streak to 19 23 innings, matching Joe Kelly for the team's longest of the season, with all of the innings coming against likely playoff teams. "I've played in some big-time games before in college," Wacha said."This is different for sure but it helped me going to (Texas) A&M and playing in those big-time games." Best of all for the Cardinals, Wacha appears to have plenty left in his right arm for whatever remains of the season. The way he is pitching, he could end up ahead of Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn in consideration for playoff starts. Thanks to the mid-season breaks, general manager John Mozeliak said the other day that Wacha's workland should not be limited the rest of the season. Besides banking some innings, the time off also gave Wacha a chance to refine a delivery that had gone slightly awry during his first callup in June. "His front foot contact and his release point were really off," Matheny said. "He went back and fixed it. Now we're seeing very similar things to what we saw in spring." What the Cardinals saw then was a lean 6-6 right-hander who throws a high-90 mph fastball from a downhill plane that hitters don't often see. Wacha's curve was working well enough against Pittsburgh that he used it numerous times when he was behind in the count. And remember, Matheny has called Wacha's changeup the best in the organization. When talking to Wainwright earlier this season about the Cardinals' 2014 rotation, I mentioned Wacha but said it was probably too soon to pencil him in. Wainwright shook his head. "He'll be ready," Wainwright said. Wacha is proving he's already ready. Thanks, in part, to the Cardinals' mid-season innings investment. You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Rockets GM makes light of wild confrontation with Clippers

NBA to investigate Rockets-Clippers postgame fight

Chris Paul nutmegs Milos Teodosic with slick dribbles

Carmelo Anthony is ‘done with the refs’ after Russell Westbrook’s ejection

Warriors stuck without hot water in locker room after beating Cavs

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Magic rookie invited teammates to his first sermon, but none showed up

Magic could be sellers, Mirotic eligible to be traded, Jabari Parker closer to return

Brewers' Nelson rehabbing 'ahead of schedule', Cardinals' Molina retiring after '20?

Broncos considering WR options, Seahawks on Schottenheimer skeptics

Spagnuolo could stay with Giants, Dallas and Cincy swap assistants

Dave Joerger plans to sit veterans, go younger

The 'It's a walk-off!" quiz

Best performances in the history of NFL Conference Championship games

Top takeaways from the NFL Divisional round

Sports & Politics Intersect: After all the bluster, college football sticks to sports

2018 NFL Mock Draft

Who stands to benefit the most from the slow MLB offseason?

Sabres look to be biggest sellers ahead of NHL trade deadline

Top impact MLB free agents still looking for work

Is Andrew Wiggins finally turning the corner?

Jayson Tatum is making a living in the clutch

The 'Home field disadvantage' quiz

NHL Weekender: Bruins, Flames, Jets are taking flight

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

The 'It's a walk-off!" quiz

Best performances in the history of NFL Conference Championship games

Sports & Politics Intersect: After all the bluster, college football sticks to sports

The 'Home field disadvantage' quiz

NHL Weekender: Bruins, Flames, Jets are taking flight

Sabres look to be biggest sellers ahead of NHL trade deadline

The 'How much ya bench?' quiz

Who stands to benefit the most from the slow MLB offseason?

Jayson Tatum is making a living in the clutch

The 'Quite the catch' quiz

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker