Without the big bat of former first baseman Albert Pujols in the lineup and five position players over the age of 30, the St. Louis Cardinals desperately need their pitching staff to lead the team, and so far it has.
Cardinals starters have given up just two runs in their first five starts of the spring and a combined 10 innings. Kyle Lohse gave up a homerun to Miami Marlins infielder Greg Dobbs in the second inning of the Cardinals first game of the spring. Shelby Miller also gave up a run to the Washington Nationals in the first inning of Wednesday’s game.
Wainwright dominated in his first game, holding the New York Mets scoreless Tuesday in his two innings of work. That outing was a huge step for Wainwright and will hopefully propel him into the regular season with no lingering concerns about his right elbow that required Tommy John surgery a year ago.
Carpenter, on the other hand, has not had the best of starts to Spring Training. He has yet to appear in a game and doesn’t seem likely to take the mound anytime soon. Since arriving in Jupitar, Fla., in February, Carpenter has dealt with neck discomfort.
Following the Peyton Manning neck surgery fiasco, right now is not a good time for a professional athlete to have neck concerns. As is the case with Manning, Carpenter is not a young pup and answers about how and when he will heal are nowhere to be found.
Given Carpenter’s issues, it is especially important for Miller to perform well during Spring Training this year. Who knows, maybe he will find himself at the back of the starting rotation for the Cardinals on Opening Day rather than leading the minor-league Memphis Redbirds staff.
Although it would be nearly devastating emotionally for fans and players alike if Carpenter’s situation takes a turn for the worse, the Cardinals might be the team best prepared to handle problems to a key member of the starting rotation.
When Wainwright went down on the first day of Spring Training a year ago, many people wrote the Cardinals off and said they had no chance without their best pitcher. Well, the rings the players receive in April will show everyone how that worked out. If Carpenter can’t go this season, the Cardinals still have a pitcher of his equal to lead the rotation in Wainwright.
That’s not to say everything is still puppies and rainbows. The Cardinals were going to need better, more consistent pitching performances this year because the offense is still an unknown. Sure, the team signed Carlos Beltran to cover some of the run production left when Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but Beltran is not near as much of an impact bat as Pujols.
Maybe the team will catch lightning in a bottle with Beltran and the Cardinals will again lead the league in several offensive categories, but that is doubtful. To make up for that difference, the Cardinals were going to have to rely more on the pitching and defense side of things.
An old group of position players doesn’t figure to lead the league defensively, so that means the Cardinals would need their pitchers to perform terrifically just to cover some of the other holes in the team.
All hope won’t be lost for the Cardinals if Carpenter is not able to start the season in the starting rotation, but fans might need a little more hope to potentially see another trip to the World Series for the Cardinals in 2012.