This is the fifth installment in a six-part Around the Horn series that will take a position-by-position look at the Cardinals' projected starters and backup options heading into Spring Training. After previously looking at the club's catching depth, corner infield, middle infield and outfield options, let's examine the group of starting pitchers.
ST. LOUIS -- Anchored by their rotation a year ago, the Cardinals enter 2016 hopeful of both rebound and repeat seasons. They'll need both, too, in order to match the success of a 2015 rotation that was baseball's best.
In a year in which ace Adam Wainwright made four starts, the Cardinals' starting pitchers combined for a 2.99 ERA, the third-lowest mark for any rotation since 1989. The group also distinguished itself by featuring four starters with at least 19 quality starts. Only one other National League rotation even had three.
But gone is John Lackey, who led the rotation with 218 innings pitched, and out is Lance Lynn, who battled through elbow issues before undergoing Tommy John surgery in November. The two accounted for 40 percent of the team's starting innings, a total that now has to be absorbed by others.
Getting their ace back will be a significant boost. Wainwright healed from an Achilles injury remarkably well last year and has an arm that will be fresh. In his previous three healthy seasons, Wainwright averaged 244 innings. That sort of coverage, coupled with his pitch-making ability, can carry the rotation.
"I think missing last year, I told my wife [last month], this is the most excited I've been about Spring Training since I can remember," Wainwright said. "I'm champing at the bit to get back out there."
Behind Wainwright sit four other starters -- each, arguably, with front-line potential.
Jaime Garcia, who had his option picked up in November, will seek to stay healthy and build off last year's success. Having made 16 starts the previous two years combined, Garcia tallied 20 while posting a 2.43 ERA in 2015. In 18 of those starts, Garcia went at least six innings deep.
Carlos Martinez had a breakout 2015 after earning a rotation spot in camp. Named to his first All-Star team, Martinez made 20 quality starts en route to throwing a career-most 179 2/3 innings. The questions around him aren't about talent, but rather regarding his health, as his season ended abruptly in September due to a shoulder injury.
After his own shoulder issues, Michael Wacha returned in 2015 and threw a career high with 181 1/3 regular-season innings. He became the first Cardinals starter 24 years or younger with 17 wins since Joe Magrane (1989) and went 16-0 when he received at least three runs of support.
Rounding out the projected rotation will be right-hander Mike Leake. Signed to a five-year deal in December, Leake has a career 3.88 ERA despite making 85 of his 172 career starts at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. Since 2010, he ranks fifth in the NL in starts and innings pitched.
"I said the day I signed that I think it's [a rotation full of] ones and twos, and I think we have the chance to become the best rotation," Leake said. "It's a bunch of young guys with Wainwright, and I think we can be as good as we work to be."
Behind those five, the Cardinals have starting depth in lefties Marco Gonzales, Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney. Top prospect Alex Reyes may also become a Major League option midseason after he finishes serving a 50-game suspension.