When any discussion of the Cardinals’ pitching staff is mentioned by a media outlet, it’s usually followed by a tribute to the front office and the strong pipeline the team has put together to develop that talent.
The problem with that image is that the team’s starting rotation is built on a fragile cornerstone that seems to crumble just enough to keep the Cardinals from raising the World Series trophy. Yes, the team did win in 2011, thanks in part to a combination of two late Texas Ranger meltdowns in Game Six of the World Series.
The following year, the team had a meltdown of its own in the NLCS after Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn had been key components in getting them there. While Lynn remained consistent in 2013, Lohse was gone via free agency after that season. Another member of that year’s staff, Jake Westbrook, saw his back give out during the course of the season, which helped lead to his retirement a few months later.
Shelby Miller moved into the rotation that same year and was showing plenty of promise until he went out with an elbow contusion in August. While he bounced back, the team made the decision to limit him to a single inning of relief work, based on fears that Miller’s arm was not strong enough.
This past year, Michael Wacha was transplanted into the rotation and was effective until June, when shoulder problems hit, keeping him out until September. His post-injury numbers were less than impressive, and like Miller the year before, he made a cameo appearance in postseason play.
Finally, Adam Wainwright had his usual periods of total domination during the course of the season, but struggled during both August and especially the postseason. Then last month, he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his elbow, with the team saying that they would reduce his regular season work next year. The Cardinals seem to be hoping that Waino’s postseason woes weren’t a precursor to 2011, when he missed the entire season due to Tommy John surgery. In order not to miss the exciting moments like this, there is still a chance to watch them play in the next season - you can even find the sold out tickets for St. Louis Cardinals.
A hurler like John Lackey, who they acquired from Boston at the trade deadline, could establish himself in the rotation, but it will be interesting to see how Lackey approaches this season. That fascination stems from the dubious contract clause that he agreed to with Boston, whereby the Cards are paying him the minimum salary in 2015. It came into play why? Because he underwent Tommy John surgery.
Also, Jaime Garcia can’t really be counted on, given the string of injuries he’s encountered over the past few years.
What this litany of woe says is that the Cardinals need to develop some way to injury proof their starters (and entire staff). A few years ago, Dr. Mike Marshall was looked at by the front office as an option to limit such injuries. They passed, and yet nothing has changed. Perhaps it might be time to look in that direction again.
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