So the Cardinal’s ace on the mound, Chris Carpenter, is unable to go this season, but unwilling to retire. Arguably the most intense, competitive pitcher for the Redbirds since the likes of terrifying Bob Gibson, Carpenter will certainly be missed on the mound and in the clubhouse as a driving force behind the magic the Cardinals bring the field. Since the announcement that he’s not going to be apart of the pitching staff this year, I’ve heard more people proclaim as though it were already in the history books how bad it’s going to hurt the Cardinals and talk as if the Cardinals cannot comeback from such an unimaginable disaster. The questions people bring the table now about the rookie clubhouse and the “giant” hole in the rotation are out there in droves, but the biggest question no one is asking — why are people so concerned?
We’re not talking about any everyday organization when we discuss the Cardinals; we’re talking about the one that has set the standard in Major League Baseball when it comes to drafting and developing talent all the way through. From top to bottom, the Cardinals are deep — and that is an understatement.
The major issues that are sitting in everyone’s mind right now are things that we would have if Carpenter was pitching this season. Who will fill the 2 and 3 spots? Why Jake Westbrook instead of Kyle Lohse? Is Jamie Garcia going to have shoulder issues again? Can Lynn hold it together for an entire season? The only variable that is new in the conversation is which two of the young guys, Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly, will get the other spot. The probability of Coach Mike Matheny actually going with one, or two, of those guys for the duration of the season, from start to finish, is low enough that even the guy who likes long shots isn’t looking at it for a dark horse. We all know that the Cardinals are going to move guys around until their proven, and proven to the Cardinal’s staff means getting this team through the World Series again.
Okay, so Carp is gone. That moves Adam Wainwright into his spot and as the core, anchor guy for the Cardinals, you couldn’t ask for a better guy for that position. Adam threw almost 200 innings last year during the regular season and I most likely don’t need to remind you that he did that on a surgically repaired elbow. Factor in the post-season and his number hit 213.2 innings pitched. While he was not in his 2010 form, (his ERA jumped up to 3.94 from 2.42 the previous year, but a lot of that stemmed from the rough start that he had) he still kept his WHIP under the league average at 1.25, and on the year, averaged 8.34 strikeouts for every 9 innings thrown. Wainwright is the cornerstone of Cardinals pitching now and there is something to be said about having a guy in that spot that learned from Chris Carpenter.
The second slot, as are all the other slots in the starting rotation for the 2013 season, is up for grabs and the fight will be between Lance Lynn and Jake Westbrook. Part of the 2006 World Champion Cardinal’s, retired outfielder, son of the famed pitching coach Dave Duncan, and brain cancer survivor, Chris Duncan, who is a host of the popular sports talk radio show The Fast Lane and a columnist for 101sports.com, seems to think that Lynn has the number two spot tied up given his early showing in spring training, and I’m a believer as well.
Lynn was listed at 6’5″ 250 lbs last year and was visibly not starving himself. The guy showed up to training camp this year 20 lbs lighter, sporting a shortened hair cut and cleaned up facial hair. Lynn was an 18 game winner last year who started the year out being just plain dominant. Lynn didn’t pick up his first loss on the year until May 13th at Atlanta, and up to that point, was in possession of a 1.40 ERA with a .85 WHIP. Lynn struggled through June last year, which seems to be fresh in the skeptic’s memories still. Despite that, the fact is that he finished the year having thrown 176 innings, with a 3.78 ERA, a 1.32 WHIP and was exactly what the Cardinals needed in a year where they lost their ace in Chris Carpenter again, and Wainwright stumbled out of the gate. So long as the dramatic weight cut doesn’t hurt him (see Shelby Miller 2012), Lynn could easily join the club of Redbird throwers with 20 wins and lock up that second spot.
Jamie Garcia, who struggled last year to earn wins on the road (3-5 with 5.02 ERA) but was able to win at home (4-2 with 2.82 ERA), needs to prove his shoulder isn’t going to cause issues. Assuming he can remain a dependable pitcher, the young lefty would bring a change to the lineup at the second position that other teams would need to game plan for. Garcia finished 7-7 last year with a 3.92 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. If the shoulder can stay strong, he makes a strong argument against Lynn for the second spot and should push Jake Westbrook down the line-up to the 4th or even 5th spot.
Westbook, who when signed last year ahead of Kyle Lohse, seemed to anger Cardinal Nation as they (we) were all in disbelief that he was picked up over the younger, statistically superior Lohse. Though it felt like a personal insult, the Cardinals are not a club that spends money like it has it…although they aren’t going pay check to pay check. GM John Mozaliek, who has historically remained silent on the deals not yet put to ink, hasn’t expressed an ounce of interest in the strong right handed Lohse, who by-the-way won 16 games last year.
Even though I understand and respect the position of the financial conservative, I still struggle with paying a Jake Westbrook $8.75 million when a solidly structured deal with a Kyle Lohse, could yield significantly better long term results while spending, relative to baseball salaries, would only be increased marginally. Westrbook, who posted a 13-11 record last year with a 3.97 ERA and 1.39 WHIP, was also better at home going 8-5 verses 5-6 on the road and posted his best numbers early on going 3-1 with a 1.30 ERA in April of 2012. He’s a veteran pitcher who is, as Chris Duncan put it, a guy that can give you 5 strong innings but it seems like he’s satisfied with that being his gig. So early on in spring training, it’s hard to justify putting Westbrook as a solid number two starter, though former (and best ever) pitching coach Dave Duncan, recently said if he (Duncan) was running the show, Westbrook would be the number two without question.
Enter the young guns, and for the pair of 22 year olds, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller , gun is the appropriate term. Rosenthal’s right arm is comparable to a Howitzer at times rocketing a baseball over 100 mph, while Miller possesses just a little less speed being checked at 97mph.
Miller has been billed as one of the greatest prospected pitchers in recent Cardinals history. With all the hype, there is really only room for failure with Miller because of the bar being set so high. When they talk about his fast ball, the likes of Motte appear with a bit more control and a lot of movement. He’s got great control considering his age, he works a very nice curve in with a change up and the kid is solid. Miller will make a run at the number five spot for sure.
Having see Rosenthal launch those rockets he calls baseballs is nothing short of impressive. His average operating range is between 97-100mph and when he unleashes his curve, ball it gives Cardinals fans that tingle on their back of their neck watching opposing hitters’ knees snap right in half. Rosenthal has served as a reliever for the Redbirds and is a serious contender for that 5th starting spot for sure.
Joe Kelly is the remaining 5th spot hopeful and he is no stranger to the fastball himself peaking at 96mph. Kelly’s magic trick is his power sinker which has induced more ground balls than my golf game. Kelly, who threw 107 innings last season for the Redbirds, at this point in his short career looks to me like a younger, harder throwing, but less developed Jake Westbrook. I think Kelly will ultimately be something strong and perform well, but as it stands right now, I would rather take chances with Miller or Rosenthal at the 5 slot.
So what does it all mean? I means I have as much a clue as who will follow Adam Wainwright in the rotation as any one else. I think the Cardinals could benefit from the left arm of Garcia following him, but they could also shine with Lance Lynn if he goes off for 18 games again. Westbrook belongs near the back end of the rotation because he is, and has been a 5 inning guy. The thing about him being that 5 inning guy is that he is comfortable there and the Redbird’s bullpen can back him up if he can’t go beyond it.
The Cardinals are strong this year. To say that I feel confident about a 12th championship this year would be a bit of a stretch. I believe it could happen, but the hurdles to overcome are many, the number of tough teams has grown, and Washington will be out for blood this year after they experienced the birds on the bat first hand, first round last year. The Cardinals always have a shot at another World Series Championship because, let’s face it…this is a baseball town with a serious winning addiction.