Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Adam Wainwright out...What does that mean for the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL?

The Cardinals are my pre-season favorite to win the World Series, but that was before the news broke that Adam Wainwright could miss some substantial time this year, maybe the entire season. News came out of the Cardinals camp that he suffered a significant injury to his throwing elbow during a bullpen session on Monday.

Last year Wainwright was second in the NL Cy Young race behind Roy Halladay, but his season was one of the better seasons in recent memory. He pitched 230.1 innings, has a 2.42 ERA, a 1.05 whip, struck out 213 batters and finished with 20 wins on the season. He ranked 4th among National League starters with his 6.1 Wins Above Replacement (WAR)  in 2010. (War is a sabermetric stat that determines how many wins a player is worth in comparison to someone who could be found to replace them)...Plain and simple he was filthy.

All of that was great, but the Cardinals still missed the playoffs by 5 games. Take him out of the rotation and it could be bad news for the Red-Birds.

Assuming the injury is as bad as suspected and he needs Tommy John Surgery, the Cardinals will need to seek out another arm for their already injury riddled rotation.

Chris Carpenter is a bona fide ace who can be the number one for the Cardinals, but he has a history of injuries that could be the final blow to the Cardinals at any point mid-season. Carpenter missed almost the entire 2007 and 2008 seasons with injuries, but has since found his way and dominated opposing batters to the tune of a 3.22 era in 235 innings in 2010, and a 2.24 era in 192.2 innings in 2009.

Jaime Garcia will have to step into the number 2 spot, which he clearly has the skills for, but he is young and coming off an injury of his own. Garcia's career was delayed due to Tommy John surgery forcing him to miss almost 2 year, but he bounced back in his rookie 2010 season. He pitched just 163.1 innings after being shut down in September, but had an amazing 2.70 ERA on the year. If he has a year similar to last season he would be a great number 2, but after him it would be a major drop off.

St. Louis' depth chart currently lists Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse as the final two starters in the Cardinal's rotation.

Westbrook was an innings eater last season, finishing with 202.2 innings and a decent 4.22 ERA, if he can repeat that, the Cardinals would be alright with him as their number 3, but anything worse would be lethal to their playoff hopes. The bad news on Westbrook is that he has been very inconsistent in his career, so no one knows what to expect.

Lohse is a different story, he pitched just 92 innings last year and had a 6.55 ERA. That cannot happen again if he wants to be of any help for the Cardinals. However, just 2 seasons ago he put together a very good season in his first year as a Cardinals he pitched 200.0 innings and had a 3.78 ERA. If he has a season like that, the Cardinals will certainly be able to stay afloat in the NL Central, but that season looks like an anomaly for Lohse.

So that's four starters down, but still one more spot needs to be filled, which could be done from the inside or the outside of the organization, both options seem viable.

The top two free agents right now are Jeremy Bonderman and Kevin Millwood, both who have had success at times, but haven't been able to stick on any one team. If a good deal can be made to sign one of the two of them, that would probably be the Cardinals best option.

If the Cardinals decide to stay in their organization for a fifth starter, there are a few options, none of which seem very good...Miguel Batista, P.J. Walters, Lance Lynn, Ian Snell and Brian Augenstein seem most likely...Of those, the only names I recognize from previous time in the Major's are Snell and Batista, both former Seattle Mariners, and neither one very good.

Really whoever fills in as the fifth starter won't be very good, but the question remains, how will St. Louis fare without their ace? Will they flounder and miss the playoffs again, or maybe they can respond and win the Central, blow through the playoffs and win a championship...oh and then sign Albert Pujols to a long-term deal...

I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. I still think the Cardinals are the favorites in the central division. The Cincinnati Reds will likely regress from last season, the Chicago Cubs will be better, but not enough better, and the Milwaukee Brewers will probably be in the mix as well, but fall short. Any one of those teams could win it though and I wouldn't be surprised, it is a tough division.

I expect the Cardinals to win about 89 games in the regular season. The top of their rotation has to remain healthy and each get about 30-35 starts and 200 innings. The hitting on this team will be good enough to carry a mediocre pitching staff into the playoffs...When a team has Pujols and Matt Holliday on their team, they are going to score plenty of runs...but the playoffs will be when the pitching needs to step up.

In a playoff series the Cardinals would like their chances when they start Carpenter and Garcia, but even if they win all their starts (a HUGE if) of the lesser pitchers would still need to get a win. It seems very unlikely for them to be able to push through a tough National League without their ace.

That being said, I will stick with my prediction because anything could happen. Had I waited a week and made my guess now, I would have chosen someone else to win it all, but I will stick to my guns and say that the St. Louis Cardinals are going to be World Champions in 2011.


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