After nearly a full month of handwringing about starting pitcher Chris Carpenter’s health, the St. Louis Cardinals received the bad news this week that Carpenter will start the season on the disabled list, a list that is all too familiar for Cardinals pitchers.
Just like last year when Adam Wainwright blew out his elbow on the first day of Spring Training, the Cardinals will start the season without one of their two best pitchers.
Although it will still take quite a while for the shine to fade from last year’s world championship, there hasn’t been much good news for Cardinals fans.
Manager Tony La Russa retired just three days after winning the World Series and first baseman Albert Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in December. With all of that change and losing one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game, more was going to be asked of the Cardinals pitching staff this year.
Unfortunately, news of Carpenter’s injury is another shot to the gut to a fan base that has seen this happen seemingly year after year. Seemingly every time the Cardinals are set to open a season with a pitching staff that, on paper, should be one of the best in the league, something like this happens.
Going back to the early years of the La Russa era in 1996 and 1997, the Cardinals had a young group of terrific pitching prospects that included Alan Benes and Matt Morris. Both pitchers had the potential to be consistent all-stars and would lead the team for years to come.
Well, Benes missed the entire 1998 season due to injury and Morris followed with a similar injury for the 1999 season. Not surprisingly, the Cardinals finished third and fourth in the National League Central Division those two years. Morris came back to win 22 games in 2001 and had several successful seasons afterward, but Benes never won more than two games in a season after his injury and retired in 2003.
Even during the Cardinals successful years of the last decade, pitchers such as Woody Williams would pull an oblique or Mark Mulder would have shoulder problems that kept them off the mound for extended periods of time.
Granted, injuries are something that each team has to deal with to some extent, but the Cardinals always seem to have vital members of the pitching staff get hurt. And when they get hurt, they are on the disabled list for a long time.
That will likely be the case with Carpenter’s latest injury. General Manager John Mozeliak did not put a timetable on when Carpenter might come back, but as is the case with nearly every Carpenter injury, it looks like he will be out for quite a while.
Given Carpenter’s history of serious injuries that have caused him to miss significant portions of the 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2008 seasons, the likelihood of a return even before the all-star break would be optimistic.
As always, the Cardinals will battle on without a star pitcher. They have a capable backup in Lance Lynn, who worked out of the bullpen last season. Lynn likely won’t set the world on fire, but he should at least fill the same role Kyle McClellan filled a season ago to replace Wainwright.
Still, it is tantalizing to think how good the Cardinals would be completely healthy pitching staff.