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Can Cards count on Wainwright?

Mike Matheny, right, had to pull Adam Wainwright in the fifth inning of the righty's most recent start. AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Adam Wainwright is slated to start Game 5 of the National League Championship Series for the Cardinals on Thursday, which would normally be music to the ears of St. Louis fans. Wainwright has been one of the best pitchers in the game for a decade. He is probably on his way to another top-five Cy Young Award finish, and in terms of WAR, he already is one of the five best starters in the storied history of the Cardinals franchise. In fact, if he were to post another typical Wainwright season in 2015, he will jump to No. 2, behind only the legendary Bob Gibson.

But the 2014 postseason hasn't gone so well for Wainwright. In Game 1 of the NLDS, the Dodgers pounded him for 13 baserunners and six runs in 4 1/3 innings, a performance that was overshadowed by Clayton Kershaw's late collapse. In Game 1 of the NLCS, Wainwright allowed nine baserunners over 4 2/3 innings in a game the Cardinals would lose 3-0, the first time in his career he has had back-to-back starts of fewer than five innings.

Two lousy starts against teams good enough to make it to the postseason would generally be considered merely a blip when compared to Wainwright's long, successful history. But this might be different. Wainwright, who missed all of 2011 after Tommy John surgery and skipped a start in June due to what the Cardinals called tendinitis in his elbow, is on record as saying that his elbow is "not 100 percent," even telling reporters "my arm doesn't feel great" after the NLCS loss.

Wainwright is going to start a pivotal game Thursday, and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is saying all the right things about trusting his ace. But really, how worried should the Cardinals be?