COMMENTARY | It's not that the St. Louis Cardinals don't have enough pitching without Chris Carpenter.
It's just that they don't have enough front-end starting pitchers without him.
Young power hurlers Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal are all guys who are capable of earning a job in the St. Louis rotation as its fifth starter. But there is no one on the roster right now who is capable of being the No. 2 man in the rotation in 2013. And that's a problem for a team with aspirations of making a deep run in the playoffs.
The Cardinals were very fortunate to have Kyle Lohse available to bump up a spot in the rotation and take on some of the best pitchers in the National League in 2011 when Adam Wainwright was lost for the season with a torn ligament in his pitching elbow. He did it again in 2012 when Carpenter missed all but the last couple weeks of the season because of the shoulder problems that now threaten to sideline him permanently.
A couple of weeks ago it looked like, as well as he pitched for St. Louis over the last couple of years, the Redbirds simply didn't have a place to put Lohse. But that's certainly not the problem now. St. Louis knows exactly what it would get for an investment in Lohse. The veteran hurler made 63 starts in the second slot of the rotation the past two years and was 30-11 with a 3.11 ERA. He's not a flashy guy who strikes out a lot of people. But Lohse simply gets results when he's wearing Cardinals red.
Maybe he's upset with the Redbirds for signing Jake Westbrook to a contract extension while letting him walk away. But Lohse has had the greatest success of his career in St. Louis. He's 55-35 with a 3.90 ERA with the Cardinals. But he's 63-74 with a 4.82 ERA with Minnesota, Philadelphia and Cincinnati. So if he's not going to get the big multi-year deal he had hoped for, it makes sense for Lohse to come back to the Cardinals and put himself in the best possible position to go back out on the open market at the end of the upcoming season.
It would be smart -- for both the Cardinals and for Lohse -- to try to reach an agreement on a pillow contract, or even on a three-year deal.
Throw Lohse in the mix and St. Louis is certainly one of the top five teams in the National League. Take him out of the picture and the immediate future is a lot less certain. Especially if starter Jaime Garcia, probably in line for the third spot in the rotation, sufferers a relapse of the shoulder issues that cost him a big chunk of 2012.
Supposing the Cardinals are able to cobble together a pitching staff capable of making the playoffs with Wainwright, Garcia, Westbrook, Lance Lynn and one of the three young guys, who are the Redbirds going to send to the mound in a hypothetical matchup against the Washington Nationals' top three of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmerman or Dan Haren?
Not only is it a bad situation for the team to rely on unproven pitchers to carry it to success, but it's also unfair to the Cardinals' highly-touted prospects to ask them to do too much too fast. As great as Kelly, Miller and Rosenthal appear, I don't think any of them are better than Rick Ankiel was during his first full year with the Cardinals in 2000. Unfortunately, too much pressure too soon ruined Ankiel's career as a pitcher. I'd hate to see the Cardinals waste a promising 2013 season -- and the future of their young stars -- by making the same mistakes over again.
Scott Wuerz has been a reporter and columnist at the Belleville News-Democrat, located in suburban St. Louis, since 1998. During that time he has covered three St. Louis Cardinals World Series appearances, the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star game and Mark McGwire's chase to break Roger Maris' home run record. He has penned the View From the Cheap Seats Cardinals fan blog for the News-Democrat since 2007.