On Wednesday, Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter was sent to St. Louis for further examination after experiencing discomfort associated with a bulging cervical disc. Kyle Lohse is expected to start Opening Day in Miami on April 4.
This leaves a huge hole in the pitching rotation for the defending World Series champions. This injury is going to setback the Cardinals more than when Adam Wainwright was lost for the 2011 season. But will their offensive decisions this season allow them to still be successful? Only time will tell.
Last season the Cardinals had the offense to compensate for the loss of Wainwright with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday in the lineup, but that was almost not enough. Keep in mind the Cardinals finished the season with only 90 wins and had to go 18-8 in September, to get some assistance into the playoffs. Both Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook pitched above their career norms and Jaime Garcia recorded his second straight 13-win season. Garcia has shown signs of being a solid pitcher in the major leagues with his performance in the last two seasons, but I don’t think Cardinals fans can come to expect 26 combined wins between Lohse and Westbrook.
Besides the obvious pitching setbacks there are questions to be answered by their “new” outfielder Carlos Beltran, who signed in the offseason to replace the irreplaceable Pujols in the Cardinals lineup. Beltran has only played in over 100 games once in the last three seasons, making him a questionable choice with such big cleats to fill. When healthy Beltran is an All-Star caliber player, averaging .283 with 28 HRs and 105 RBIs in a 162-game season, but the last time he amassed those numbers were in 2008 with the Mets.
On top of a large hole in the batting lineup, the health of Adam Wainwright needs to be addressed. Wainwright just a little over a year ago went under the knife for Tommy John surgery, a common operation in baseball, this procedure has a typical recovery time of a year and a half. The choice to bring him back before he could be completely healed could be called risky by some. Although he says that he is fine and his performance shows it. Recently, Wainwright’s fastball has been consistently clocked in the low 90s and is looking good now. The big question is does he have the stamina to get through a six-month season?
In combination with the loss of Pujols, the introduction of Beltran and the questionable long term performance of Wainwright combined with other pitching issues, the loss of Carpenter would seem to be much bigger than appears. All these factors compound the difficulty for the Cardinals to defend the title since the competition in the NL Central has gotten stronger. Roy Oswalt should make sure to keep his phone close at hand, I don’t think retirement will be long lived.