Even without Carpenter, Cards' rotation should be solid

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

The St. Louis Cardinals didn't make any offseason moves to augment their rotation because they like young right-handers Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller, along with Lance Lynn, who won 18 games in his first season as a big-league starter.
Even when veteran right-hander Chris Carpenter was lost, probably for the year, with a recurrence of the nerve problem that cost him much of last season, general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny maintained that they still had enough pitching. That depth, however, would be tested even further if left-hander Jaime Garcia, who had shoulder problems throughout 2012, has trouble again this spring.
With right-handed veterans Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook available at the top of the rotation, the club should still have enough pitching, although the younger pitchers haven't taken on a 200-plus-inning campaign as departed free agent right-hander Kyle Lohse and Carpenter did in past years.
The bullpen, mostly a strength last year, will have the same seventh- to ninth-inning mix of right-handers Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte, the latter of whom had all 42 of the Cardinals' saves in 2012. The left-handed side was weak last year, but Marc Rzepczynski might be freed up to pitch more innings, which is his norm, because the club signed left-handed specialist Randy Choate to a three-year deal.
Offensively, the club survived the first year with first baseman Albert Pujols in good fashion, leading the National League in runs scored. The core remains: right fielder Carlos Beltran, left fielder Matt Holliday, first baseman Allen Craig, catcher Yadier Molina and third baseman David Freese, all of whom had 22 or more home runs and between 76 and 102 RBI.
Center fielder Jon Jay had a strong season in his first year as a regular, hitting .305 and leading the team with 19 steals. Jay will lead off again, but the other two spots in the lineup may be up for grabs.
Shortstop Rafael Furcal, whose 2012 season ended in late August when he suffered a torn elbow ligament, chose not to have surgery. He is said to have improved in the offseason, but he has yet to make that long throw from the shortstop hole.
Pete Kozma, impressive when he filled in for Furcal late in the season and through the playoffs, could take over if necessary, but Kozma may not be what the club is looking for defensively at the position. Veteran infielder Ronny Cedeno has been signed as a stop-gap.
At second base, Daniel Descalso is the incumbent. He delivered some big hits in the postseason, but he batted only .227 in the regular season. Matt Carpenter, a valuable utility man who hit .294 as a reserve and drove in 46 runs, was in camp at Jupiter, Fla., by the first week of February and was taking ground balls at second base from coach Jose Oquendo.
Keep an eye on Oscar Tavares this spring. The 20-year-old outfielder is ticketed for Class AAA, but he ranks as the best hitting prospect to come through the system since Pujols.
Matheny, who will be starting his second season as the manager, no doubt will be more sure of himself this time around. Other then the keystone issues and the makeup of the rotation, the Cardinals don't have as many problems as other teams. The club, which gained wild-card status the past two years, should challenge for the National League Central title this year.

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