Testing the Depth

Questions about the health of the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals started popping up before the ink was dry on the contracts signed by Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran.

But those two players were not at the front of the line for treatment from the Cards medical staff. That spot belonged to Chris Carpenter, much like his rotation counterpart Adam Wainwright in 2011. Losing Ace 1A certainly make Cardinals fans nervous, and considering the injury histories of guys like Furcal, Beltran, Lance Berkman, and the recent knee injury to Allen Craig, tensions were understandably high. And then the Cards got off to a great start, and it seemed like this team may just be poised to make a serious run at a return to the postseason.

Now, the Cards look like a combination of the team we hoped for—one that scores a lot and pitches well—and the team we feared the most: a group of great players suffering one injury after another.

Friday, the Cards announced Allen Craig (hamstring) and Kyle McClellan (elbow) would be joining Carpenter (nerve damage), Scott Linebrink (shoulder) and Jon Jay (shoulder) on the team’s disabled list. Of the group, Craig and Jay are likely to return first, but it’s no secret the Cards are missing some key players right now. And this comes on the heels of a Berkman DL stint and Beltran’s ongoing leg issues.

Are the Cardinals injury-prone? It certainly appears that way. But it’s not all that surprising. And now more than ever this year, the Cards must lean on their depth in the minor leagues.

The plan has been pretty successful so far. Lance Lynn filled the rotation spot Carpenter would normally occupy; all Lynn has done so far is lead the team in wins, strikeouts, and ERA. Matt Carpenter has filled in quite well at all four corner positions, and before cooling off recently was far and away the best hitting rookie in the league. Since Craig and McClellan went down, the Cards recalled Adron Chambers and Brandon Dickson, two guys who have some experience at the major league level.

But it’s almost time to start wondering how close the Cardinals are to having to add someone to the 40 man roster. One, maybe two more injuries would be borderline devastating to this team; not because of the number of guys out, but because someone may have to have their “clock” started by coming into Major League Baseball earlier than the Cards hoped.

It is the toughest thing to plan for in sports, because you just never know who is going to come up lame. It may make logical sense to look at someone like Furcal, Wainwright, or David Freese based on their history. But how can a team prepare for that? If they stockpile corner infielders or starting pitchers and they end up needing a shortstop or shut-down reliever, how is that planning worth anything?

The Cardinals have been bitten hard lately by the injury bug, and the two-way conveyor belt between St. Louis and Memphis has been fired up, and right now it is sending more players north than south. Is it time to panic? No. But concern is legitimate.

Author: Chris Reed

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