Welcome to the maiden voyage of Life After Pujols, a baseball nerd’s take on Cardinals baseball without Albert Pujols. In preparation for Opening Day on Wednesday, we are taking a two-part look at how the Cards stack up for the 2012 season in hopes of defending their World Series title.
We start today with a breakdown of the Cardinals pitching and will return tomorrow with a position by position look at the rest of the 2012 Cardinals starting lineup.
Part 1: Pitching
The Cards have shuffled a lot since winning the 2011 World Series. How does a team move forward after losing arguably the game’s best manager and hitter in the same offseason? With established veterans, and young talent, that’s how.
The young talent starts with new manager Mike Matheny, who has never managed at any level. A beloved former Cardinals catcher, Matheny has already had a great rapport with most of the Cards roster for some time now as a spot coach during spring trainings past.
As for replacing Pujols, well…I’ll leave that emotional distress until part 2.
For now, here’s a look at the Cardinals pitching for the 2012 season:
Adam Wainwright 2011 Stats: 0-0, 0.00 ERA ( okay, okay, he didn’t pitch at all)
It wouldn’t be a new season without some bumps in the road for the Cardinals’ starting rotation. Adam Wainwright returns from Tommy John surgery that kept him from throwing a single pitch all season last year, and while he has had a successful spring training (2-0, 1.45 ERA and 9 K’s in 5 starts), a team must always be cautious with pitchers returning from injury. Though he has been a workhorse and league leader in ERA in the past few seasons, it would be unrealistic to expect Waino to instantly return to the form he had in 2009 and 2010.
Chris Carpenter 2011 Stats: 11-9, 3.45 ERA
Aging veteran Carpenter had a rocky start to the season last year, but put it together coming down the stretch and was unbelievable in his playoff starts on normal rest. (Let’s exclude the game that La Russa started him on short rest.) His 1-0 shutout of the Phillies in game 5 of the division series, in Philly, against Roy Halladay, will go down as one of the greatest pitched post season games in history.
A big issue for concern for this season is the injury status of Carpenter. A bulging disc in his neck has created a nerve issue that shortened Carpenter’s spring, and has put him on the 15 day disabled list to start the season, throwing Lance Lynn into the mix to fill in until Carpenter comes back. Lynn was an effective reliever last season, (40 K’s in 34 innings with a 3.12 ERA), and has always been a starter in the minors. A big thrower, he has the stuff to fill in the rotation for now.
On the plus side, the Cardinals do have the top right handed pitching prospect in the game, Shelby Miller, waiting in the wings. Miller will start the season at Triple A Memphis, and would be worth checking out at Autozone Park up close before he heads to St. Louis, most likely during this season.
Jaime Garcia 2011 Stats: 13-7, 3.56 ERA
Young lefty Jaime Garcia, in the second year of his contract, is expected to only get better as he ages in experience. He’s been nothing short of lights out this spring (1-1, 2.79 ERA, 19 K’s and only 5 walks in 19.1 innings). Caveat: In 2011, Garcia was 9-4 with a 2.55 ERA at home, and 4-3 with a 4.61 ERA on the road. If he can figure out how to achieve success on the road like he does in Busch Stadium, Garcia could be one of the best lefties in the NL. (Behind Dodgers phenom, Clayton Kershaw, of course.) In all likelihood, Garcia will be a staple of the Cardinals rotation for years to come.
Kyle Lohse 2011 Stats: 14-8, 3.39 ERA
With Carpenter injured, Kyle Lohse, though basically worthless in the playoffs last year ( 6.45 postseason ERA), takes the opening day start Wednesday in the brand new Miami Marlins ball park. Though he was quiet in the playoffs, Lohse led the team in wins and era a year ago and, when healthy, can be an effective starter. The perception of Lohse had previously been negative due to his poor performance in 2009 and 2010 from a rash of injuries just after signing his current contract, but if he puts up numbers similar to 2011, that would be a big plus to this team.
Jake Westbrook 2011 Stats: 12-9, 4.66 ERA
The tough part of the Cardinals rotation is veteran Jake Westbrook. While clearly a decent back end starter, Westbrook needs to stick to keeping the ball down and give the Cardinals a solid 6 innings every 5 days. Westbrook had the highest ERA of all Cards starters last year, and threw 183 innings in his 33 starts. While he was durable all season, he needs to do better than only averaging ~5 innings per start.
With Carpenter hurt and Wainwright coming back from injury, Garcia, Lohse, and Westbrook have to put up some good numbers early on to take pressure off Waino and Lance Lynn. Like much of the Cardinals this year, health will play a big role here. It will definitely be exciting, however, when/if Shelby Miller gets called up and can make an impact. Cardinal faithful have been eyeing Miller and his minor league success for years now, waiting for it to pay off.
Bullpen: Closer Jason Motte is poised to have a big year, building on his late season and postseason success (5 saves and a 2.19 ERA in the Cardinals postseason run). The closer position for the Cardinals was a circus last year, as Ryan Franklin basically fell apart and Tony La Russa decided to refrain from naming anyone the closer, while giving Salas, Motte, and even Boggs a chance to close. In a variation from La Russa’s style, Matheny has said Motte is his closer since day 1. Having the confidence of a world series win, and with the support and faith of manager and team behind him should put Motte in place to have a solid year with his blazing fastball.
The bullpen was a strong point for the Cards down the stretch last year, and should be again this year with newly added veterans Scott Linebrink and J.C. Romero, sturdy setup man Kyle McClellan, who also could start in a tough spot, tricky lefty Marc ‘Scrabble’ Rzepczynski, young power arm Mitchell Boggs, and flashy youngster Fernando Salas.
The Cardinals pitching staff has had a pretty successful spring: the team as a whole posted a 3.05 ERA, good for second in the majors. If Carpenter gets healthy and effective soon, this rotation is in the top 5 in the NL. And even if he doesn’t, well, Shelby Miller is on the way and let’s be frank- the Cardinals just won the world series without their best pitcher all year. They could do it again, right? Honestly, even with its injury issues, this rotation is strong. With an overall ERA of 3.74 last year, good for 12th in the majors, these starters should put the powerful offensive lineup in place to win plenty of games.
Look for Part 2 tomorrow, as we take a position by position look at the 2012 Cardinals starting lineup.
Drew Fleming covers the St. Louis Cardinals for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @thefilmjerk