The 2014 Cardinals could become the first St. Louis pitching staff in 67 years to lead the National League in strikeouts.
With Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez expected to get more innings in 2014 than they did in their rookie seasons of 2013, a Cardinals staff that includes Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist and, possibly, Jason Motte has the potential to match the feat of the 1947 Cardinals, the last St. Louis staff to lead the league in strikeouts.
The 2013 Cardinals staff had 1,254 strikeouts. Only the staffs of the Reds (1,296 strikeouts), Dodgers (1,292), Pirates (1,261) and Giants (1,256) had more.
Among the top strikeout artists for the 2013 Cardinals were Wainwright (219 in 241.2 innings), Lynn (198 in 201.2 innings), Miller (169 in 173.1 innings), Rosenthal (108 in 75.1 innings), Wacha (65 in 64.2 innings), Martinez (24 in 28.1 innings) and Siegrist (50 in 39.2 innings). Motte, seeking a bullpen role in 2014 after being sidelined in 2013 because of an injury, has 273 strikeouts in 260 career innings for St. Louis.
Wainwright ranks second in career strikeouts among Cardinals pitchers, with 1,127. He trails only Bob Gibson (3,117).
Yet, no Cardinals staff with either Gibson or Wainwright led the league in strikeouts.
Remember Red Munger
The fifth-place showing in strikeouts by the 2013 Cardinals in the 15-team National League is the highest by a St. Louis staff since the 2000 Cardinals were sixth in a 16-team league, with 1,100. The top strikeout pitchers for the 2000 Cardinals were Rick Ankiel (194 in 175 innings) and Darryl Kile (192 in 232.1 innings).
The 2000 Cardinals and 2013 Cardinals were division champions. The 1978 Cardinals finished 69-93. Yet that 1978 staff was fourth in the 12-team National League in strikeouts, with 859, and was the last St. Louis club to rank among the top 5 in the league in strikeouts until the 2013 Cardinals. Leading the 1978 Cardinals pitchers in strikeouts were Pete Vuckovich (149 in 198.1 innings) and Mark Littell (130 in 106.1 innings).
Only eight teams were in the National League the last time a Cardinals staff finished at the top in strikeouts. The 1947 Cardinals had 642 in 154 games. The top performers for a St. Louis team that placed second in the league that year at 89-65 were Red Munger (123 strikeouts in 224.1 innings) and Murry Dickson (111 strikeouts in 231.2 innings).
Cardinals staffs ranked first in the league in strikeouts five times in the 1940s (1941, 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1947) and six times in the 1930s (1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 and 1935). Dean was the individual league leader in strikeouts for four consecutive years (1932-35).
The highest a Cardinals staff ranked in strikeouts during Gibson’s 17 seasons (1959-75) with the team was second in 1960 (with 906 in 154 games). Gibson, in his second season, struck out 69 in 86.2 innings that year. He led the league in strikeouts once, with 268 in 1968.
Having a staff with a high strikeout total is no guarantee of team success. The last St. Louis club to win a World Series championship in a year in which its staff led the National League in strikeouts was the 1944 Cardinals.
The 1982 Cardinals, who won the World Series title, placed last in strikeouts among National League staffs that year. The two St. Louis World Series championship teams under manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan ranked near the bottom of the league in staff strikeouts. The 2006 Cardinals pitchers were 14th in strikeouts and the 2011 Cardinals pitchers were 13th.
In 1968, the year Gibson led the league in strikeouts for the pennant-winning Cardinals, the staff with the most strikeouts was Houston. Topped by Dave Giusti (186 strikeouts), Don Wilson (175) and Larry Dierker (161), Astros pitchers totaled 1,021 strikeouts.
Houston also finished last that season in the 10-team National League, 25 games behind the Cardinals.