The St. Louis Cardinals managed to win the World Series last season without an injured Adam Wainwright. With Chris Carpenter dealing with his own physical ailment, Wainwright is hoping to take over as the team's ace.
Wainwright makes his first start in just over a year and a half when the visiting Cardinals continue their three-game series with the NL Central rival Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday.
The right-hander last took the mound for St. Louis on Sept. 24, 2010, when he beat the Chicago Cubs 7-1 to finish 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA.
Wainwright finished second behind Roy Halladay in the Cy Young Award voting, but those good feelings didn't last long because St. Louis announced in spring training last season that he would need Tommy John surgery and miss all of 2011.
Carpenter picked up the slack, going 11-9 with a 3.45 ERA last year while leading the NL with 237 1-3 innings and 34 starts. He threw 36 more innings in the postseason, going 4-0 with a 3.25 ERA in six starts to help St. Louis win the championship.
However, the Cardinals announced March 23 that Carpenter has nerve irritation that has led to weakness in his pitching shoulder, and there is no timetable yet for his return.
"If you look at our staff as a whole, we'll do a big job as a whole picking Carp up. He has done that for years. Time to return the favor," Wainwright said.
Wainwright had a solid spring, opening with 16 1-3 innings without allowing an earned run until Detroit reached him for four runs - three earned - over 4 2-3 innings in his final start March 28.
"I'm probably better for going through that last game because I was able to refocus on a couple adjustments and really work and learn my delivery," Wainwright told the Cardinals' official website. "I think sometimes when it's going real well, you can get complacent and lose that focus on making each pitch individually one at a time - and the importance of each pitch individually."
Wainwright led the NL with 19 wins, 34 starts and 233 innings while finishing third in the Cy Young voting in 2009, when Carpenter was runner-up to Tim Lincecum.
Wainwright is 7-4 with a 2.06 ERA in 21 games - 14 starts - against the Brewers.
He'll be opposed by Zack Greinke, the 2009 AL Cy Young winner with Kansas City who will be looking to build on a solid first season with Milwaukee.
The right-hander went 16-6 with a 3.83 ERA in 28 starts in 2011 but struggled in the postseason, especially against St. Louis in the NL championship series.
Greinke won Game 1 despite allowing six runs in six innings and lost Game 5 after giving up five runs - two earned - in 5 2-3 innings. He posted a 6.17 ERA in the NLCS after going 2-1 with a 3.15 ERA in three regular-season starts against the Cardinals.
Greinke started this spring strong by allowing two earned runs in 19 1-3 innings, but he surrendered six runs - five earned - over three innings in his final start Monday against the Chicago White Sox.
"He's been so lights out in the spring, let's get this one out of the way and he'll get back on track and do what he's been doing," Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said.
St. Louis opened its season with a 4-1 win in Miami on Wednesday before beating the Brewers 11-5 in their opener Friday. Including postseason, the Cardinals have won three straight over Milwaukee and 11 of the last 14 meetings.
"They kind of gave us an unfavorable schedule for a team that just won the World Series, but to get a couple wins already, it's good," left fielder Matt Holliday said.
David Freese, the NLCS and World Series MVP last season, is 5 for 10 with a homer and five RBIs in the first two games.