The St. Louis Cardinals took the field June 10, 2012 against the Cleveland Indians with seven of their projected starters on the disabled list and Matt Holliday on the bench with a minor injury. Not surprisingly, the team was mired in an 11-19 slump. But the Cardinals might be better prepared to handle a similar rash of injuries in 2013.
The 2012 Cardinals fought through much of May and June without the likes of Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker, Lance Berkman and Matt Carpenter. That stretch tested the team’s depth as players such as Shane Robinson, Daniel Descalso and Matt Adams did their best to fill the holes left in the lineup and on the field.
The Cardinals were far from a great team at that point in the season, and their record during that portion of the season is a large reason why they finished nine games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central.
Sure, the Cardinals likely wouldn’t have caught the Reds regardless, but they would’ve been five games out if they went 15-15 in the 30-game stretch in May and June, and they would’ve been in a final-week battle with the Reds had they played above .500 in that stretch.
Looking ahead to 2013, the Cardinals still have a fairly veteran lineup that will probably feature at least four players 30 years old or older. Age and health were concerns for the Cardinals heading into last season, and many of those same concerns will remain this year. Lance Berkman is the only player age 30 or older who is no longer with the team.
That means the Cardinals will need to have players ready to fill in and contribute at a high level when injuries hit.
The only free agent hitter they signed in the offseason was 35-year-old Ty Wigginton, so they didn’t bolster their bench, especially after trading Schumaker to the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, the team still has more depth on its roster and in the minor leagues.
If shortstop Rafael Furcal gets hurt, the Cardinals can call on last year’s late-season hero Pete Kozma, who showed last year he can be productive. If Carlos Beltran or Matt Holliday get hurt, Allen Craig could move from first base or Matt Carpenter could fill those spots. Plus, minor leaguers such as outfielder Oscar Taveras and second baseman Kolten Wong are nearly ready to play in the big leagues, anyway.
Realistically, the Cardinals would have to have more than five starters hurt at the same time before they would start running out of decent replacement options. But even in that case, Adams is still an option to fill in at first base from time to time, so long as he shows some improvement from his 27-game stint in the big leagues that yielded a .244 batting average with two homeruns and 13 RBIs.
In addition to depth in the field, the Cardinals found last year that they have quite a stockpile of young pitchers who now have postseason experience and can certainly fill any gaps if someone in the rotation or bullpen gets hurt. Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal are all more-than-decent options should Adam Wainwright or Chris Carpenter get hurt again, or if Jaime Garcia continues to have shoulder problems.
The Cardinals haven’t done much during the offseason to fortify their bench, but they already have enough interchangeable parts on their roster to keep the team competitive should they face another year when the regular lineup struggles to stay healthy.
And with a veteran team, those replacement parts are most likely going to be vital to the team’s success in 2013.