Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: St. Louis

There are two words no baseball fan ever wants to hear, especially about a player on their own team. Worse than "draft bust," "huge slump," or even "Adam Eaton." No, these words mean surgery and 12-15 months of rehab, a lost season, a lost year, and a what-could-have-been attitude. Those words are "Tommy John," and St. Louis Cardinals fans had to hear them in context with All-Star pitcher, and 2010 Cy Young runner-up, Adam Wainwright. Wainwright (above), who will be nearly 31 by the time he returns at some point next season, has put up some impressive numbers over the last two years: a combined ERA of 2.53, a WHIP of 1.13, and a K/BB ratio of more than 3.4:1, all while winning 39 games and a Gold Glove. Based on WAR (Wins Above Replacement), Wainwright was responsible for nearly 14 Cardinals wins over the past two seasons alone. It's fairly clear that the Cards have some huge shoes to fill behind Chris Carpenter (who's having some minor injury problems of his own), and they've only got a few weeks with which to do so.

The Cards have already had 9 pitchers start games this spring, including rotation members Jaime Garcia (2010: 13-8, 2.70 ERA) and Kyle Lohse (4-8, 6.55), who had by far the worst season of his career last year at 32 years of age. One of those 9 who hasn't gotten a start yet is journeyman reliever Ryan Franklin, who's accumulated a 3.04 ERA in 280+ innings with the Cardinals. Franklin began his career as a starter with the Mariners, starting 106 games with a 4.34 ERA, though his last start came in 2005.  Other candidates include rookies Kevin Thomas and Brandon Dickson, neither of whom have pitched enough in the spring to see if either of the young talents have what it takes to pitch in the rotation. Their efforts might be hampered anyways by 4th-year reliever Kyle McClellan (above), a 27-year-old who's spent his entire career in the Cards bullpen, averaging around 70 innings a year while putting up a 3.23 ERA. McClellan's first start was a good sign, as he went 3 innings, giving up 2 hits and 0 runs while striking out 3. This is going to be an interesting situation to watch all year, as going from a 70-inning reliever to a 150+ inning starter is no easy task, and McClellan (along with Lohse and Garcia) has a long road to go to stabilize a rotation that just a few weeks ago looked to be one of the best in the National League.

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