ST. LOUIS -- From the start of spring, high expectations were set for this Cardinals rotation. Chris Carpenter was poised to lead it, and Adam Wainwright was returning to join him as a co-ace. Such best-laid plans still haven't come to fruition, but through 20 games, this Cardinals rotation has still been a strength.
Perhaps unfairly overshadowed by one of the league's best offenses, St. Louis' rotation is off to one of the best starts in the Majors. Three starters have already won three games, with the five totaling a Major League-high 12 victories. Only the Nationals have a better staff ERA than the Cardinals' 2.41 mark.
The Cardinals have done this, too, without the services of Carpenter, who is out indefinitely with a nerve issue near his shoulder, and Wainwright, who is 0-3 with a 7.32 ERA in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. The other starters have picked up the slack.
"It's a good, friendly competition within the team," said Jake Westbrook, who improved to 3-1 with his win on Friday. "That's just a friendly thing we do. We don't really talk about it much, but each guy going out there wants to do the same thing, if not better than the last guy."
In the rotation only because of Carpenter's injury, Lance Lynn became the Majors' first four-game winner earlier in the week. Kyle Lohse (3-0) has the opportunity to become the National League's second four-game winner on Saturday. Those two, along with Westbrook, rank among the NL's top nine ERA leaders.
With Westbrook's seven-inning, one-run outing on Friday, the starters have also now allowed two or fewer runs in 11 of the team's last 12 games.
"[The] pitchers have been extremely diligent with staying with their work ethic and their in-between start program and really not try to reinvent the wheel," manager Mike Matheny said. "They each have a different style and philosophy to pitching, and I think it has really helped. When you go through a series, you're not going to see the same guy twice."