My son approached me just before the start of “Sports Daily,” this morning and asked me something along the vein of “How are you holding up?”
I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then I made the mistake of asking him what he was talking about.
“Adam Wainwright,” he said.
Oh boy. I knew then the news wasn’t good. And I was right.
It looks like Wainwright, the ace pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, will miss the 2011 season with ligament damage in his right elbow. It’s all but a done deal that Wainwright will undergo Tommy John surgery, which could cost him part of the 2012 season, as well.
First the whole Albert Pujols contract mess. And now this.
I wasn’t prepared for the Wainwright news. I should have been – he missed his last couple of starts in 2010 because of some elbow irritation. But by all accounts, he reported to spring training healthy and ready to chase the Cy Young Award again.
Without Wainwright, what looked to be the strength of the Cardinals – their starting rotation – becomes a huge question mark. Wainwright was going to be the Opening Day starter, a potential 20-game winner, a leader in the clubhouse and an all-around good guy.
But what’s done is done and now it’s a matter of where the Cardinals go from here.
Who replaces Wainwright in the rotation?
That’s the million-dollar question. There are candidates and reliever Kyle McClellan is getting a lot of early run. I love McClellan, who has been fantastic in a bullpen set-up role. He has the stuff to start, but does he have the endurance? He hasn’t been a starter since early in his minor-league career.
Lance Lynn and Adam Ottavino, a couple of Cardinal minor leaguers, are in the mix. Lynn performed well in the Pacific Coast League playoffs for Memphis last year and Ottavino is a former No. 1 draft pick who has not yet lived up to that billing.
Left-hander Raul Valdes is in the mix after an impressive performance in the Dominican Winter League, where he was 5-3 with an ERA under 3.00 in 10 starts. He came to the Cardinals during the off-season from the New York Mets.
Free agent acquisitions Ian Snell and Miguel Batista could be in the mix, though it’s probably a stretch to think either could endure the kind of innings being a full-time starter would entail.
It makes spring training more interesting, because the starting rotation for the Cardinals – Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse – was set in stone.
I think St. Louis might be able to make up for some of the loss of Wainwright with an improved offense. You can be assured that Pujols and left-fielder Matt Holliday are going to produce big. Let’s say new right fielder Lance Berkman has a nice comeback season, somewhere in the neighborhood of .300 with 20 homers and 80 RBIs in around 120 games. That would be nice.
Let’s also say third baseman David Freese plays 120 games and has numbers comparable to Berkman’s. And that center fielder Colby Rasmus, still young, is capable of having a monster season. I don’t think it’s out of the question to think Rasmus could hit .290 with 30 homers and 25 stolen bases.
If Skip Schumaker reverts to the .300 hitter he was before last season and if shortstop Ryan Theriot can mix things up at the top of the order and if catcher Yadier Molina can hit .270, then the Cardinals could hit their way out of this Wainwright injury.
I’m not counting on it, necessarily, but it’s really all I have for now.
And I’m not going to throw in the towel on the 2011 season. What fun would that be.
I take comfort in the fact that the Cardinals’ manager, Tony La Russa, is as tough-minded as they come. He won’t allow his team to create excuses. He’ll use the Wainwright injury as a challenge to get the very best out of the team he has. And the Cardinals’ players will react the same way.
Admittedly, I was moping around for a good part of this morning and afternoon. I thought the sky had fallen and that the 2011 Cardinals season was lost. But I’m not going there. The Cardinals haven’t even played any exhibition games. There is a month to get something figured out. Not all is lost. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.