Tag Archive | "Chris Carpenter"

The Past Meets The Future—Matheny Extended, Carp Retires

It was a day of coming and going for the Cardinals. In the first major personnel announcements of the offseason, General Manager John Mozeliak announced that the organization was furthering its leadership on the bench with Mike Matheny, while also making official the retirement of Chris Carpenter.

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In the current, the decision to continue on further with manager Matheny was affirmed over the long-term—not that there was ever any question regarding it. In his second year, the Cardinals finished with a National League-best 96 wins, going to win its first National League Championship under his guide, before reaching Game 6 of the World Series. For these efforts, he finished fourth the voting for NL Manager of the Year and saw it come to a head today with a three-year contract extension that will keep him in St. Louis through the 2017 season. Before the 2013 season, his third year option that covers the 2014 season was previously picked up.

Matheny has played a pivotal role in keeping the organization afloat after future Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa retired two years ago. In a time where the team could have slipped into a minor rebuilding phase, under his watch it has instead returned it to the NLCS two consecutive years and won its first NL Central in four years. In his first two seasons on the bench, Matheny has a record of 185-139, which is the third best two-season start to managerial career in Cardinal history.

             HISTORY IN THE MAKING

Matheny has quietly climbed into elite company in Cardinal history in his first two years as manager. His 185 wins bring him in a third all-time in team history for manager wins over the first two seasons:

Billy Southworth (1941-42): 203-104

Frankie Frisch (1934-35): 191-116

Mike Matheny (2012-13): 185-139

Johnny Keane (1961-62): 177-147

Joe Torre (1991-1992): 167-157

Perhaps what has been most impressive has been the handling of the young guard of Cardinal prospects that Matheny has embraced. They have become an important foundation of the team, both now and in years to come. Armed with a ready to win, yet continually developing roster, the move to secure Matheny over the long-term is yet another strong early investment in continued Cardinal success.

 

Yet, while the club was securing its future, it also announced the newest part of its past. The biggest announcement of the afternoon was Mozeliak confirming what was long assumed to be coming: the retirement of Carpenter. Injuries curtailed the last two seasons for the 38-year-old pitcher, and he mustered only three starts since 2011. After mounting a final comeback attempt in mid-June, only to see it derailed in Memphis after the same nerve issues that ended his 2012 in Spring Training returned. Ultimately, it became clear there was nothing left to pursue in regards to continued attempts to return, and as his contract also expired with the club at the end of the season as well, it became clear that it was time to move on.

Injuries often kept Carpenter from being the regularly dominant presence at the front of the Cardinal rotation, but when he was there, he was among the best hurlers to ever wear the Birds on Bat. After beginning his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, Carpenter signed with the Cardinals in December 2002, but missed his first season in St. Louis with an elbow injury.

But from the time he made his Cardinal debut in 2004, on through 2006, he was as good a pitcher as the National League had. Over that time span, he posted a record of 51-18, including winning the first Cardinal Cy Young in 2005 since Bob Gibson hoisted the award 35 years before. In 2006, he anchored a Cardinal staff that salvaged a failing season to win the team’s first World Series since 1982.

While he missed all but five games in 2007 and 2008 due to a second elbow surgery, he played an important role as mentor to the young Adam Wainwright, becoming a critical part of launching a career that has seen him join Carp among the elite Cardinal hurlers all-time. He returned to the top of his game in 2009, joining Wainwright in the top three of the NL Cy Young vote, a third such finish for Carp.

His final great hurrah was in the 2011 postseason, when he authored one of the great postseason games in history, winning a 1-0 dual with Roy Halladay. Overall, he posted a 4-0 record that October, including two World Series wins over the Rangers, including the decisive game seven victory.

Overall, he finished with a career record of 144-95, and a 10-4 postseason record, the seventh most wins in playoff history. With the Cardinals, his career record finishes at 95-44 with a 3.04 ERA and finished in the top ten in strikeouts, winning percentage, WHIP and postseason wins. He fought through a litany of injuries during his career: a torn shoulder labrum, torn ulnar-collateral ligament, and finally thoracic outlet syndrome, that led to the nerve and circulatory problems that ultimately brought his career to a close.

Due to time lost, Carpenter will not reach Cooperstown, but will loom large in the lore of his era. He is likely to be a quick inductee into the forthcoming Cardinals Hall of Fame when the Ballpark Village-based Cardinal museum is completed. Nobody will ever wearing his number 29 again most likely, despite the fact it is not eligible to be “officially” retired under current team rules. As for his future in the game, there has been continued dialogue between him and Mozeliak on finding a place for him with the club, most likely in a coaching capacity. Because, for one of the game’s great warriors, a suit-and-tie front office gig will not do. Rather, keeping him close to the dirt and the players that continue the legacy that he so intensely embraced is the only way.

As it has always been, its only goodbye for now for Carp.

 

Matt Whitener is a staff writer for i70 Baseball. He can also be found at The Sports Fan Journal and Cheap.Seats.Please, as well as on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and WhitenerCSP@gmail.com

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What Does The Future Hold – Cardinals Contracts and Scenarios

As the St. Louis Cardinals face the final weekend of the National League Championship Series, and the baseball year as a whole rolls into its final go around shortly, the show still goes on, regardless of outcome. Sooner or later, the tone of the year quickly turns to the personnel part and the future becomes the present. Free agency, retirements, trades and rumors will rule the roost for the next three months, and the Cardinals will be far from on the outside looking in.

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While the team has the rare pleasure of having the vast majority its entire core and active roster under team control for not only 2013, but 2014 as well, the business is safe to continue as is for the near future. But exactly how is the design of the team set up entering the winter? Here is the entire breakdown of the Cardinal roster, including what’s to come, what will cost what and how contract status works into the personnel decisions that could loom.

(Contract figures per Cots Contracts & Baseball Reference)

Guaranteed Contracts—$71.5M guaranteed in 2014

Adam Wainwright (32, $97.5M through 2018)

Matt Holliday (34, $51M through 2017 w/ $17M team option in 2018)

Yadier Molina (31, $44M through 2017, w/ $15M team option in 2018)

Allen Craig (30, $28.5M through 2017, w/ $13M team option in 2018)

Jaime Garcia (27, $17M through 2015, w/ $23.5M total in separate team options in ’16-’17)

Jason Motte (32, $7.5M through 2014)

Randy Choate (38, $6M through 2015)

The vast majority of the Cardinal veteran core is not only signed, but is contracted through the next four seasons at minimum. Wainwright, Holliday and Molina are likely on career carrying deals, while the team locked up young, quickly proven players such as Craig and Garcia early in their careers, and have control through their best years underway. Motte is the lone pending free agent on the 2014 team, and will have a show-and-prove year as he returns to the ninth inning from Tommy John surgery early in the season.

Arbitration Eligibles

John Axford (31, Stage 2, $5M in 2013; Non-Tender Candidate)

David Freese (31, Stage 2, $3.15M in 2013)

Jon Jay (29, Stage 1, $524,000 in 2013)

Daniel Descalso (26, Stage 1, $511,000 in 2013)

Fernando Salas (29, Stage 1, $512,000 in 2013; Non-Tender Candidate)

While Craig and Motte are locked up, the remainder of the formerly young Cardinal cast is in the midst of their arbitration years. At maximum, Freese, Jay and Descalso are under team control through 2015, but there will be a few tough calls in this tier of the team, and none harder to predict than Freese, who is due for a raise into the $5M range, but had his worst year of his career. Axford’s case will be the most interesting case, as he is a high-ceiling talent, but will carry a difficult price tag for what is likely a seventh inning bridge pitcher to carry.

Pre-Arbitration

Lance Lynn (27, Stage 3)

Matt Carpenter (28, Stage 3; Buy-out Candidate)

Tony Cruz (27, Stage 3)

Shane Robinson (29, Stage 3)

Shelby Miller (23, Stage 2)

Michael Wacha (23, Stage 2)

Carlos Martinez (22, Stage 2)

Pete Kozma (26, Stage 2)

Trevor Rosenthal (24, Stage 2)

Kevin Siegrist (24, Stage 2)

Seth Maness (25, Stage 2)

Matt Adams (25, Stage 2)

Joe Kelly (26, Stage 2)

Keith Butler (25, Stage 2)

Sam Freeman (26, Stage 2)

Tyler Lyons (26, Stage 2)

John Gast (25, Stage 2)

Kolten Wong (22, Stage 2)

Adron Chambers (27, Stage 2)

The core of the Cardinal team is its youth, as the group that was heralded as the top organization in all of baseball before the season has seen many of its jewels hit the big leagues. Of the 19 players in this section, no less than 12 are virtual locks to be on the Opening Day roster, and none will come in at cost of more than $525,000. This is where the cost control of youth, performing youth at that, shows it’s most advantageous asset. And with only Lynn, Carpenter, Cruz and Robinson on pace to reach arbitration status over the next two years, unless the team decides to up the ante on an early long-term deal to buy out any of this group’s arbitration seasons, this will be a strong asset on the side of the team’s purchasing power, if needed.

Free Agents

Carlos Beltran ($13M)

Jake Westbrook ($8.75M, $9.5M team option will be declined)

Chris Carpenter ($10.5M, will likely retire)

Rafael Furcal ($7M)

Edward Mujica ($3.2M)

Rob Johnson ($750,000)

There are a few ifs and a few certainties here. The certainties start with Jake Westbrook, who’s 2014 option is all but certain to be declined. Furcal and Carpenter will not return as well, with retirement on the horizon for Carpenter and Furcal missing all of the season with Tommy John surgery, and the team having moved on from him before spring training commenced. Mujica is due for a raise, despite his late season struggles, and will likely price himself out of returning for the capacity he would be needed in.

 

Post-2014 Free Agent Candidates

Motte, Axford, Freese

Post 2015 Free Agent Candidates

Garcia, Choate

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Wainwright Joins Pinnacle of Cardinal Pitchers

It was no secret that the key to winning game five of the National League Division Series would require a strong performance from Adam Wainwright. However, what he ultimately delivered was far more than just that. It was an effort that removed any doubt about whether he belonged among the most exclusive class of Cardinal hurlers all-time, Waino delivered. And it is now clear that the Trinity of Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean and Chris Carpenter now needs be pulled to include #50 as well.

It is now a “Mt. Rushmore” of Cardinal pitching greats.

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Throughout his whirlwind year, Wainwright has steadily affirmed himself as being among the best pitchers the team has ever had. It was a year where he reaffirmed his intent to be a part of the team throughout the remainder of his career, climbed the up the team’s leaderboards to a few rare levels and once again led his league in wins. It would be deemed yet another in a steady line of affirmations of him becoming one of the better pitchers of his era.

But there is always the sense that such achievements are only along a regular day’s work for him. Being a great Cardinal requires being great at the highest levels; and those only come in October. For Wainwright, the situation that found him the Division Series, being an anchor on both ends of it, fed exactly what he desires most. And that’s controlling the series in a way that only the head of a staff can; being the unavoidable punishment for opponents, and a pillar of confidence for his club.

With one half of that equation affirmed via his dominant Game One outing last week, he turned for a chance at rarified Cardinal immortality by picking up victory in a win or go home game. It was the one thing that eluded his resume to be a part of the aforementioned Cardinal greats of the bump, and it was also a chance to avenge the biggest let down of his career to date, which came in the same situation a year ago in Washington. But it was clear that the past would stay where it was early on, as Wainwright set the tone with an especially devastating curve. He pitched through the tough spots, while relishing in an inspired defense, as well as overcoming some blunders from that same unit. He made the runs stand up, and he authored a masterful complete game to close down the year for the Cardinals’ most persistent foe, and push his club to a third consecutive National League Championship Series

It echoed of the same fashion that he made his first bones in Cardinal lore, via his game-closing strikeout (via a buckling hopeless curveball) to a hitter that had destroyed the team all year, this time being Pedro Alvarez. Yet while Wainwright would always be remember for his relief heroics in seven years ago, last night was the stamp on his resume as a starter of legend with the club. It was his equivalent of Dean’s complete game, six-hit shutout of the Tigers to win the 1934 World Series, or Gibson’s record-setting 17 strikeout opener to the 1968 Series. More contemporarily, it was his match to his mentor’s masterful three-hit clinching performance over Philadelphia to close out 2011’s NLDS.

Wainwright’s postseason big game confidence was already in place, but last night, the pedigree was set. As well as affirmation that a living legend, one of the vein that tosses the first pitch out years down the road, is now set in the midst of the Cardinal faithful, for how thoroughly he delivered the last one of yesterday evening.

 

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Best record important, but St. Louis Cardinals should have Adam Wainwright ready to start playoffs

The St. Louis Cardinals will be the National League Central Division champions as they enter the playoffs, but where they begin the postseason is still an important mystery.

Wainwright

The Cardinals took a one-half-game lead over the Atlanta Braves for the best record in the National League into play Thursday when the Braves face the Philadelphia Phillies while the Cardinals wait to begin their final three-game series of the season at Busch Stadium against the Chicago Cubs.

As was the case in the Cardinals’ World Series championship season of 2011, they will face the worst team in the NL Central while the Braves play the Phillies. However, the Cardinals played the Houston Astros to close that season, and the Cardinals and Braves were fighting just to make the playoffs in 2011.

Now they are competing for the best record in the National League, which would guarantee them home-field advantage through the National League Championship Series.

The Cardinals don’t have Chris Carpenter to send to the mound in the final game of the season as they did two years ago, but they still have one of the best pitchers in the league ready to go in the final series, if necessary.

But here’s the thing. It is not necessary.

The Cardinals could pitch Adam Wainwright on Saturday, which would be his regularly scheduled day to start, or they could hold him back until Sunday if they need a win on the final day of the season to clinch the best record in the league.

However, if he pitches Sunday, that would put him on short rest to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series, and the Cardinals would almost certainly push him back to Game 2.

A third option would be to shut Wainwright down until the playoffs regardless, but that opens up a problem of too much rest if he goes from Monday until next Thursday between starts.

He will instead probably pitch Saturday or Sunday, and at this point Saturday would be the much better option.

Sure, the Cardinals might lost home-field advantage in the NLCS if they don’t win enough games against the Cubs this weekend, but with a playoff spot already in hand, the Cardinals would be more prudent to maximize their strategic advantages for the first round of the playoffs because there is no guarantee they will even make it the next round and be able to use what would be their home-field advantage.

At this point, Wainwright in Game 1 of the division series is more important than Wainwright on Sunday against the Cubs.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny can still use Wainwright on Saturday and then use a pitcher such as rookie Michael Wacha on Sunday. That setup would still give the Cardinals a legitimate chance to win and gain home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs, but it would more importantly position Wainwright to pitch the first game of the playoffs.

Plus, a winning performance from Wainwright against the Cubs is far from certain. Wainwright has struggled against the Cubs more than any team throughout his career outside of the Atlanta Braves, which would arouse another whole set of questions for later in the playoffs.

Anyway, Wainwright as a career 4.44 earned-run average and a 7-6 record through the seven full seasons he has pitched in Major League Baseball.

So a win from Wainwright on Saturday and Sunday is not nearly as likely as one might first assume, even though the Cardinals are 28 games better than the Cubs heading into play Friday.

The Cardinals would be smart to let Wainwright pitch Saturday on normal rest and be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs instead of having him pitch Sunday and risk losing that game while also losing him until Game 2 of the division series.

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St. Louis Cardinals need Lance Lynn in starting rotation despite struggles

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Lance Lynn may have saved his spot in the starting rotation with a solid six innings Wednesday when he held the Milwaukee Brewers to one run in a game the Cardinals eventually won 5-1.

LanceLynn

But his spot in the rotation should have been safe regardless, even if he might not have deserved it with his recent performances.

Lynn has a 13-10 record but had been awful or close to awful in his five previous starts before Wednesday as the second half of his season fell apart for the second consecutive season.

He began the season nearly the same way he did his rookie year in 2012. He won 10 of his first 12 decisions in 2012 and won 10 of his first 11 this season, but what happened next is what keeps Lynn from being a force in the rotation.

Lynn went 3-3 after the All-Star Break in 2012 until the Cardinals sent him to the bullpen in late August to rest and work on his mechanics.

That decision helped, as Lynn all four of his starts in September as the Cardinals made their push to qualify for the second wild-card spot. Of course, the Cardinals could afford to let Lynn regroup in the bullpen for a couple of weeks because they had a rotation that still had Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia, and Chris Carpenter was on the way back from the disabled list.

They had no such luxury this season when Lynn lost five of six decisions between Aug. 4 and Sept. 5 and saw his earned run average jump from 3.78 to 4.37.

Lohse signed with the Brewers in the offseason, Garcia blew out his shoulder in May and Carpenter never could get back from his arm injuries. Plus, manager Mike Matheny does not yet have enough confidence in Jake Westbrook to move him back into the rotation from the bullpen, which is where he’s been since he returned from a back injury.

The Cardinals also have two rookies already in the rotation with Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha, and their only other options are rookies Tyler Lyons or Carlos Martinez, who have both been inconsistent in their first seasons in the major leagues.

So Matheny must continue to give the ball to Lynn every fifth day regardless of his performance. The pressure in this situation is not on Matheny; it’s squarely on Lynn, who must consistently pitch well for the Cardinals to maintain their slight lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central Division to avoid having to play in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game, as they did against the Atlanta Braves in 2012.

Lynn often gets frustrated when his outing does not go perfectly. For example, he gave up three homeruns and four runs total in five innings Sept. 5 against the Reds in Cincinnati, and his body language after each was terrible.

It’s fine to be frustrated. The Cardinals certainly wouldn’t want their pitchers to be happy after they give up a homer, but they also need their pitchers to refocus immediately and get the next hitters out to avoid a bad at bat becoming a bad inning and a bad game. The Cardinals lost Lynn’s latest start against the Reds 6-2 in part because he struggled to bear down and push through the adversity that is part of nearly every Major League Baseball game.

He was much better Wednesday against a much weaker lineup. The Brewers don’t have near the quality hitters of the Reds, who could easily be a playoff opponent for the Cardinals this year.

But the Cardinals don’t necessarily need Lynn to be a postseason starter. They can find three pitchers to take care of the starts in October. They instead need Lynn to be at his best in September so they are positioned for success once the playoffs begin.

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Difficult Start To Second Half Could Help St. Louis Cardinals In October

The St. Louis Cardinals have unquestionably played their worst baseball of the season the past three weeks, going 4-11 against the four best teams in the National League, but that rough stretch could be a large dose of the medicine the team needs to be ready for the playoffs.

MikeMathenyArguing

Despite the awful finish to July and start to August, the Cardinals still entered play Saturday in the first wild-card spot and 6.5 games from falling out of a playoff position. Therefore, they have little reason to stress over making the playoffs, but a little frustration could add an edge any team needs to succeed in the postseason.

Sure, the Cardinals had their fair share of injuries during the first half of the season. Starting pitcher Chris Carpenter never recovered from his arm injury, closer Jason Motte underwent Tommy John surgery during spring training, Jaime Garcia had season-ending shoulder surgery in May and Jake Westbrook missed significant time while on the disabled list, but none of those problems were big enough to keep St. Louis from jumping out to the best record in Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals cruised to a 57-36 record in the first half while primarily playing teams that are not going to come anywhere close to making the playoffs. Their combined 28-11 record against the Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants largely accounts for why the team was more than 20 games above .500 by the All-Star Break.

They began the second half of the season 5-1 in six games against the lowly Padres and Philadelphia Phillies, who were each 11 games under .500 heading into play Saturday, but then they went out to play the good teams in the National League.

And they got smoked.

The Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers would fill out the postseason bracket along with the Cardinals if the season ended anytime soon, and those teams won 11 of 15 games against St. Louis.

Of course, catcher Yadier Molina went on the disabled list with a sprained right knee less than a week into that stretch and that has certainly affected the offense considering he was second in the league with a .330 batting average when he got hurt.

Yet, the Cardinals’ problems have been bigger than just Molina’s absence. The team has hit .260 since the All-Star break, which is 16 points lower than it hit before the break.

The pitching staff’s earned-run average has ballooned from 3.40 to 3.98 in the second half as the team struggles to mix and match starters to fill in gaps left by an intense schedule and more injury problems such as Shelby Miller’s sore elbow that could cause him to miss a start after he took a line drive directly off it on the second pitch of his outing Wednesday against the Dodgers.

But more than anything, the team needs to relearn how to win, particular against good teams it will likely face in the playoffs.

Remember, the 2013 Cardinals are a young team. They have a second baseman (Matt Carpenter) and shortstop (Pete Kozma), who are in their first seasons at those positions at the major-league level, and they have used 11 rookie pitchers. All but four of those 13 players were on the postseason roster in 2012 and many had never spent a day in the big leagues until earlier this season.

Also, every team, good or bad, goes through a rough patch in their season. The 2006 World Series championship Cardinals team lost eight games in a row in late June, and the 2011 world championship team lost seven in a row in early June, along with a 3-8 stretch in mid-August before it caught fire through the rest of the season.

The 2013 team had not had a losing streak of more than three games in a row at any point before the seven-game losing streak a couple of weeks ago. The team had battled around injuries, but it had yet to develop the resilience that only a stretch of losing baseball can provide.

Plus, the team now knows the level of play required to compete with the best teams in the league.

It certainly isn’t fun for Cardinals fans to watch their team struggle, but the recent run of losses seemingly night after night could help the team develop the mental and emotional toughness it will need to make a run at the 2013 World Series championship.

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Could another Cardinal arm be needed?

Pitching has been the strength of the Cardinals throughout their league-best season opening. But as the trade deadline approaches, could adding to their greatest asset be necessary? And if so, how would they go about doing so? One thing is for certain: the team has the assets and the market would be open to listening on what they could offer.

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So far, so good has been the order of the year for the Cardinals starting rotation. Coming into today, they have a MLB-best 38 wins and a 2.97 ERA. Yet, looking a bit deeper, and the forecast may not be as good as the moment. Only Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook have more than one season of 30 plus starts among the current staff, and as a year ago showed, the pitfalls of a youthful staff become more evident the later it gets. Lance Lynn noticeably wore down by last August, and while he has become more economical in his approach recently, he is still has to show he can breakthrough over the full course of the year. Add into the equation the presence of Shelby Miller, who has never topped 139 innings in his pro career, and some combination of  Tyler Lyons (152 inning career-best) and potentially Joe Kelly (179.1 innings total a year ago), and there’s not much long-term experience that September and October bound seasons can lean upon.

This bring into question if the presence of another proven arm is a must to ensure the club has the legs to run the full marathon of the season. With the loss of Jaime Garcia and the uncertainty of Chris Carpenter injury: Cardinals right-hander gacing live batters” href=”http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2013/6/4/4395400/chris-carpenter-injury-cardinals-rehab-shoulder-neck-return”>the availability of Chris Carpenter, there is a definite forced youth movement to the bottom half of the rotation. If Lyons, Lynn or Miller falters over the second half, the presence of another arm could be necessitated.

However, the question begs, to what extent could the club pursue an outside addition? In recent weeks, there have been rumors of the potential availability of the Phillies’ Cliff Lee, as well as the Blue Jays’ Mark Buehrle. Both veteran lefties have been tied to the club before, and could be highly sought after if their respective clubs stay far enough outside of the pennant race to concede. Lee has a limited no-trade clause, yet the Cardinals are not a team listed on it. The Arkansas native is 8-2 with a 2.55 ERA in 14 starts this season, and grew up a fan of the team, and would provide a much needed left-handed presence to the rotation. However, he is due another $50 million guaranteed over the next two years of his contract, in addition to likely costing multiple high-potential prospects, an approach GM John Mozeliak has balked at engaging with in recent history.

Buehrle, who was dealt to the Blue Jays this past winter, is also a battle-tested lefty that would provide a similar presence in the rotation, at a slightly friendlier price to both acquire and maintain. The 34-year-old is due $37 million over the final two years of his deal, carrying through 2015. He also would probably not carry quite as steep of a price to acquire from the young talent pool, but wouldn’t be a discount acquisition either. The St. Charles native does not have any trade restrictions on his deal, and has stated publicly before his desire to pitch in his hometown.

Other potential targets could include a group of expiring contracts after the season in Ted Lilly, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Edison Volquez. All would fit into the scheme of short-term arms, that wouldn’t cost much in regards to top tier talent being moved to acquire, and having contracts that will come off the books after the season.

Potentially, nothing could come of this as well. The team could choose to stick with what’s in the fold, and rotate in the bevy of internal to fill in space. For a team that’s 20 games over .500, blockbuster moves may seem like the ultimate vanity play, but digging a bit deeper, it could truly be an investment in staying where they started.

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Adam Wainwright becomes even more important as St. Louis Cardinals injuries mount

Right-handed starter Adam Wainwright has been a leader on the St. Louis Cardinals staff for years as he became co-ace of the pitching rotation with Chris Carpenter, but the team needs Wainwright’s leadership now more than at any other time in his career.

adam wainwright I70 size

Wainwright, 31, is now the lone veteran in the Cardinals rotation after 35-year-old right-hander Jake Westbrook went on the disabled list May 9 with elbow inflammation.

Left-handed starter Jaime Garcia is only 26 years old, but he was in his fifth season in the big leagues and had made 90 career starts before he had surgery earlier this week that ended his 2013 season. The four other pitchers now in the Cardinals rotation have a combined 55 career starts, and 41 of those are from right-hander Lance Lynn, who is in only his second full season with the team.

Wainwright will make his 162nd career start Monday when he takes the mound in Kansas City against the Royals, and each start becomes all the more important as the Cardinals hold their breath every time rookies John Gast, Tyler Lyons or Shelby Miller make a start.

Their worries don’t come from those pitchers’ performances, they have combined for a 2.40 earned-run average, but young pitchers don’t have a track record to reassure management and fans that they’ll consistently have more good games than bad ones.

For example, Miami Marlins right-handed starter Jose Fernandez is touted as one of the best up-and-coming pitchers in Major League Baseball. Although he has a 3.31 ERA, he is 2-2 in nine starts and has failed to pitch past the fifth inning five times.

Gast, Lyons and Miller have pitched at least into the sixth inning in each of their combined 12 starts heading into play Saturday, but the chances of them maintaining that pace are slim, at best.

That means the bullpen will likely see more action in coming weeks, so Wainwright’s responsibilities could become two-fold every time he pitches. He’ll likely have to go deep into games to save the bullpen for days when the young pitchers start, and he’ll have to pitch well enough to win if the other starters hit a rough stretch and the team enters Wainwright’s start on a losing streak.

But Wainwright is capable of being a do-everything pitcher. He has a 6-3 record and 2.38 ERA in 10 starts and is returning to the type of dominant pitcher he was before he had Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2011 season.

Plus, he has the experience that comes with nine years in the big leagues and has learned how to be a leader from the 38-year old Carpenter, who won the Cy Young Award in 2005.

Carpenter might join Wainwright in the rotation in late June or early July if his rehabilitation from nerve problems in his arm continues to go well, and Westbrook could return even sooner if he doesn’t suffer any more setbacks in his recovery.

Until then, Wainwright is going to have to be the starting rotation’s best pitcher, mentor and leader. Good thing he has strong shoulders.

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Shelby Miller makes early case for National League Rookie of the Year

The St. Louis Cardinals knew rookie right-handed starting pitcher Shelby Miller had talent since they drafted him No. 19 overall in the 2009 draft, but others in baseball questioned if the Houston-native’s maturity level would allow him to succeed at the sport’s highest level.

ShelbyMillerYadierMolina

Miller projected he would be the in big leagues within two years of being drafted. Well, it took an extra year, but Miller has made the most of his first opportunity with the Cardinals and has set a pace that could earn him the highest honor a rookie can receive.

Miller gave up just one hit and struck out 13 Colorado Rockies in a complete game Friday to move his record to 5-2 and drop his earned-run average to a rotation-best 1.58.

His five wins are tied for second-most among Major League Baseball pitchers, and his ERA is four among all starters who have pitched more than two games so far in 2013.

Those are the sort of numbers that made the Cardinals draft Miller so high and made fans yearn for the team to call him up nearly anytime another starting pitcher had a couple of bad games. However, Miller didn’t look much like a Rookie of the Year-caliber pitcher when the Cardinals had holes to fill in their starting rotation at this point last season.

Projected starters Chris Carpenter and Kyle McClellan suffered long-term injuries in spring training last year. That left a potential spot for Miller to make good on his two-years-to-the-show claim, but Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly filled those positions instead.

Meanwhile, Miller was in the midst of a season with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds that produced an 11-10 record with a 4.74 ERA, not nearly numbers that would inspire a call-up to the major leagues.

However, Miller won six of his seven final starts in 2012 with the Redbirds and pitched six games in relief with a 1.32 ERA as the Cardinals made their late-season run toward the playoffs.

He’s been even better in 2013 as part of starting rotation that has had one of the best starts to a season in franchise history, posting a 2.15 ERA in April. In fact, the entire Cardinals starting rotation would likely receive an invite to the All-Star Game if it was played in May instead of July.

Granted, the season is still young, and Miller will eventually have to face teams for a second time as the season progresses, but he has set a foundation for what could be one of the best rookie seasons for a Cardinals starting pitcher in more than a decade.

Remember, Adam Wainwright pitched too many games as a reliever in 2006 to be considered a rookie although he went 14-12 with a 3.70 ERA in 2007 as a full-time starter.

Before Wainwright, the Cardinals hadn’t had a dominant rookie pitcher since Rick Ankiel burst into the big leagues to be Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2000 with 194 strikeouts and a 3.50 ERA in 30 starts. Unfortunately, his dominance didn’t last very long as he lost control of his pitches with five wild pitches in a playoff game against the Atlanta Braves later that season and eventually switched positions to become an outfielder.

Matt Morris finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1997, going 12-9 with a 3.19 ERA in 33 starts, but he suffered a major elbow injury midway through the next season and didn’t make a full return to the starting rotation until 2001.

Miller probably won’t maintain his sub-2.00 ERA throughout the season, but his first seven starts have set him up for a chance to go down as one of the best rookie pitchers in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals.

That could also be the first trophy on what could be a very full mantel by the end of his career.

If that’s the case, the Cardinals could be in the beginning stages of another decade full of good pitching, and that usually means many seasons with winning records.

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Cardinals/Cubs: Three Things To Walk With

The St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs began the newest chapter in one of sport’s greatest rivalries on Tuesday. While the Cardinals entered the series with National League’s best record and riding a six-game win streak that ran completely over the Brewers, in series between these two clubs, anything can happen…and it actually did. The Cubs entered with an opposite record and place in the NL Central, yet when the series started everybody was on equal ground as usual between these two teams.

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The series played out to show that equality as well, as the two clubs split the mid-week series, and played two intense games that took some timely baseball to work out and win. In the end, both games were won on the backs of each club’s closer-of-the moment, as well as some tight relief pitching, as well as by a grand total of one run in club’s favor. Yet the Cardinals survived their brush with their oldest rivals, and still sit with the best record in baseball. Here are three factors that made that possible:

1. Lynn’s Strange Start: Lance Lynn took the mound on Tuesday night riding more momentum than anybody else on the club. He was the winner of five straight contests, and was looking to win his NL-best sixth contest already. He also entered the start as a beneficiary of just over eight runs of support per game, a league-best level of assistance. After Allen Craig’s second inning home run, the Cardinals failed to score another run. The one run was the lowest amount of support he’d received since September 13th last year, a 2-1 game that ended in his favor.

This time the game didn’t end on his side, as he dropped his first start since April 3rd despite the fact he surrendered only two runs off four hits over seven innings. By not gaining the victory, he failed to match the longest winning streak by a Cardinals pitcher since Chris Carpenter in 2011.

2. Yadi giveth and taketh away: One of the oddest (or at least telling) turns of the Cardinal approach over the past few years is that Yadier Molina is among the most active base runners on the team. Despite his obvious lack of natural deftness, he has managed to steal at least eight bases in three of the last four seasons, including 12 a year ago. His trip to Chicago was a showing in both crapping and cashing out with gambles on the bases for him. In game one, in the midst of an eighth inning comeback, he followed a single up by stealing second with two outs. However, then after nearly being picked off on a long lead based on inducing a balk from the sometimes erratic Marmol, he took too far of a lead was cleanly picked off after the next pitch, ending the inning and the Cardinal hopes for the evening.

The next day, his footwork made the deciding difference. In a similar situation to the night before, Molina found himself back at second, but this time Jon Jay came through with a single into center field, where Molina turned the corner at third and scored the game’s final run. The gambling man continues to pay out…even if it’s just breaking even.

3. Who’s the Man(ess): Recently promoted righty Seth Maness has wasted no time in making an impact with the big club, and has done so under pressure each time out. He has produced game-saving, eighth inning double plays in both of his last two times on the mound, and has taken home the win in two of his first three appearances. He recorded the last five outs of Wednesday’s game, and has retired seven of the eight batters he’s faced. He has been a major factor in steadying the late game situations that sank the club repeatedly over the first month, and is doing a lot to make his first cup coffee up count.

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