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Gerrit Cole should be next. Assuming Cole keeps pitching roughly the way he has been pitching and he can stay healthy, he should win his 200th game sometime in August of 2027. I obviously can’t really predict the month, and I can’t really tell you how Gerrit Cole will age as a pitcher, and I also can’t tell you with any certainty that the world as we know it will even exist in August of 2027.
What I can tell you is that Gerrit Cole is very clearly next in line for 200, and after him, there’s a pitching fog. I’m sure some younger pitcher will emerge, but it isn’t at all clear who that younger pitcher might be. Here is your list of win leaders among pitchers 32 and younger:
Gerrit Cole, 32 years old, 143 wins
Aaron Nola, 30, 90 wins
Kevin Gausman, 32, 87 wins
Michael Wacha, 31, 86 wins
Michael Pérez, 32, 84 wins
José Berrios, 29, 83 wins
Eduardo Rodriguez, 30, 80 wins
Julio Teheran, 32, 80 wins
Marcus Stroman, 32, 77 wins
Alex Wood, 32, 76 wins
No, it’s not looking especially promising for future 200-game winners.
Then, I think that just confirms what a lot of us were thinking on Monday Night; Adam Wainwright feels a bit like the last of an era.
Waino spun seven wonderful, old-man innings on Monday against Milwaukee. He mixed arm angles and speeds and hope and put together a 93-pitch gem, a wonder considering that none of those 93 pitches came anywhere close to 93 mph. He got Sal Frelick to ground meekly to short on a 70-mph curveball, and he got Brice Turang to just miss a 78-mph changeup and fly out to the warning track, and he got Mark Canha to top an 81-mph cutter toward third base, and he got Josh Donaldson to watch an 86-mph sinker go by for strike three.
In a time when we bow at the altar of stuff, Wainwright reminded us of a time when some were more like hypnotists than pitchers. When Wainwright first made it to the big leagues in the mid-2000s — and you might remember, he was a reliever first, because that’s what the Cardinals needed him to be — the pitching landscape was filled with knuckleballers like Tim Wakefield and crafty lefties like Mark Buehrle and Jaime Moyer and bulldogs like John Lackey and Matt Morris and so on.
Stuff mattered plenty, of course, but the job as Wainwright learned it was to throw 230 innings per year — something no pitcher has done since David Price in 2016 — and to throw 230 innings in a season, you needed something more than stuff. You needed to figure out how to retire batters the third time through the order. You needed to work your way through long, pitch-laden innings. You needed to get outs when your fastball wasn’t popping and your curveball wasn’t dropping. All of that’s still true … but less so. Starting pitching used to be a 400-meter race; you had to pace yourself at least a little bit. Pitching now is more like a 400-meter relay. Go out there, bust it for as long as you can, we’ll come get you at the first sign of fading.
Wainwright threw 230 innings in 2009 and 2010 — he finished third and second in the Cy Young voting those two years. He had stuff for sure — a sinking fastball, a cutting fastball that was a bit like a slider, and maybe the best curveball in the game — but what people always talked about with Waino was his command, his will and his ability to outthink hitters. Again, I’m not in any way saying that those things are lost in today’s generation … pitchers still require command and still need to keep hitters off-balance.
But not for as long. In 2010, Adam Wainwright pitched eight innings or more in a game 12 times (fourth behind Cliff Lee, King Félix and Roy Halladay).
In 2012, after missing the entire year with an injury, Wainwright again pitched 12 eight-inning games (fourth again, behind Lee, Justin Verlander and James Shields).
In 2013, he led the league with 241 innings pitched and threw 10 such games (third behind Lee and Kershaw). In 2014, he threw 11 more (fourth behind Kershaw, Johnny Cueto and David Price).
Heck, even as recently as 2021, Wainwright led the league with seven eight-inning starts (he actually tied with Sandy Alcantara*, who has singlehandedly kept eight-inning games alive).
*This is not an exaggeration. Here are the top pitchers with eight-inning starts since 2021:
Sandy Alcantara, 27
Aaron Nola, 10
Adam Wainwright, Corbin Burnes and Framber Valdez, 9
Wainwright is just of his time. His stuff has changed, but he hasn’t. Some of the other guys still around from his era — Verlander, Max Scherzer, Kershaw, Zack Greinke — have mostly adjusted to the new max-effort pace and become six-inning guys. Waino, though, still goes out there with the hope and expectation of going deep into the game, working hitters over, pitching old-school baseball.
And that’s part of what has made this season so painful to watch. Wainwright might be the most respected guy in baseball — I’m talking about respected by EVERYONE — players, coaches, management, media, fans, etc. — and he came back this year, I would guess, because he was fairly effective last year, and he was only five wins away from 200, and the Cardinals wanted him to fill a leadership role.
And all of it has gone wrong. He’s had a miserable season individually. The Cardinals have had a miserable season as a team. Nothing has gone right. It’s always tough to see a terrific player come to an end, but it was particularly rough watching Waino get beat up, because he so thoroughly deserved better in every possible way. And, dammit, it looked like he wouldn’t even get to 200 wins. After getting ripped in Atlanta on Sept. 7, he was 3-11 with an 8.19 ERA, and still two wins short.
Then, last Tuesday, he caught a break in Baltimore. He gave up seven hits and three walks in five innings, but managed to somehow hold the Orioles to two runs. The Cardinals scored three runs in the first four innings. And he got Win No. 199. The dream ending was still possible.
And then, incredibly, it happened on Monday, as Waino threw those seven shutout innings, and the Cardinals won 1-0. It was catcher Willson Contreras’ solo home run in the fourth that scored the one run. That was a nice part of the story, considering what happened with Contreras early in the season, the Cardinals moving him off catcher and complaining about his defense, etc.
I suspect Wainwright can write his own ticket in or out of baseball going forward — he could become an announcer, he could work in an organization, he could work for the commissioner’s office, he could take my job writing this newsletter, he could become a country music star — it’s all there for him. He’s not going to the Hall of Fame, alas, but had he been a little bit luckier with injuries, he might be. Anyway, he is going to leave a hole in the game. They don’t make them like Waino anymore.
I did want to mention a few book things….
— In case you missed it, I will be doing a WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL event at Park Road Books in my Charlotte hometown on Oct. 18. Admission is free, but there’s a good chance there will be a big crowd there, so if you’d like to attend, it makes sense to call Park Road (704-525-9239) or email them and ask to be put on the list. And even if you don’t want to be there for me, you’ll want to be there for Tommy Tomlinson, whose upcoming book, Dogland, about the Westminster Dog Show, will be the literary event of 2024.*
*And I say that even though I will have a new football book out in 2024.
— On Thursday morning — I think at 8:40 a.m. Eastern, but such things change — I will be on “CBS Mornings” talking WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL with former George Washington baseball player Tony Dokoupil. Can’t wait.
— On Sunday, I will be featured in The New York Times’ “Inside the Best-Seller” List column, which is super-exciting.
As always, thank you so much for all your support, whether it’s buying a book, dropping by an event or offering a word of encouragement. It means the world to me.