Is the Cardinals season on the brink?

Before getting into the bigger picture, it’s worth noting that the Cardinals played their third spring training game yesterday, beating the Mets 3-2.  It seems that spring training takes on a different meaning for most fans.  You have those that think it means absolutely nothing, those that think it’s a glimpse of what’s to come for the regular season, and those that are in between. 

I’m in the in between crowd, but because of season ending Tommy John Surgery for Adam Wainwright, and early injuries to Chris Carpenter and Mitchell Boggs, it might be more important than it normally is.  While Bernie Miklasz is sure that the 5th starter’s spot is Kyle McClellan’s, you have to wonder if someone will be able to take it from him as Jaime Garcia did in 2010.  Again, I don’t want to get too high or too low at this point, but I think we have to look at guys like Lance Lynn and put stock into how he does.  I think we also have to pay attention to who may end up playing 3rd base if David Freese goes down early.

While the injury to Carpenter is being looked at as a minor tweak, I don’t think we can overlook any problems associated with our starters, especially Chris Carpenter.  He may only miss one spring training start, and it really may be nothing.  However, if Carpenter’s injury is something that lingers and causes him to miss significant time either at the beginning of the season, in the middle or towards the end, it would be hard to look on the bright side.  With Wainwright already being out, it would seem almost impossible to think of making the playoffs if the Cardinals lost Carpenter for any significant time this year.  The problem I have is that I’ve heard of these minor injuries before from the Cardinals, which turn out to be more than minor.  They’ll need Carp, along with Garcia, Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse to all have great seasons.  If Carpenter goes down and everyone behind him has to move up one more slot, I think the season will be lost.

The Cardinals are still in a position to challenge for the NL Central title.  Caribsports.com now has the Cardinals and the Brewers both at 20-1 odds to win the World Series.  Also, the Reds are at 23-1 and the Cubs are still at 30-1.  The Wainwright injury put the Cardinals even with the Brewers to the odds makers.  If Carpenter were to go down for the season, I imagine the Cardinals would fall behind the Cubs, probably at about 35-1.  I’m not sure how many people put stock into the odds, but because of all the money involved, I do.  I feel the Brewers are slightly ahead of the Cardinals right now, but it should be a good fight.

So, in yesterday’s win over the Mets, Lance Lynn pitched 3 shutout innings, allowing 1 hit and striking out 3.  If Wainwright wasn’t out, and Carpenter hadn’t tweaked his hammy, I might not have taken notice.  Lynn may well get hammered his next time out, or he may continue to pitch well.  Who knows?  I will be paying closer attention this year than years past though, for the reasons I’ve given.  I do wonder if he has a ST similar to what Garcia had last year if he can win that 5th spot, leaving McClellan in the pen.  It would seem if the injury to Boggs ends up being a serious one, that leaving McClellan in the pen and trying Lynn in the rotation would be the way to go.  It was reported yesterday that Boggs will be ok to pitch in a week, but again, it’s not something you wanted to see happen, and a stiff back is not something that sounds so great.

As I look at other teams, it seems most have at least a player or two going through some type of strains and pains.  I’m probably jumping the gun on some of my assumptions right now, but I think we all have to be looking in ST this year a little more closely than years past.  So even though we are still 3 and a half weeks away from opening day, I think the 2011 ST is more important than the last few years.  I’ll be paying more attention, but hopefully the worries can be kept in check with good health.  The season may not be lost, but I think it only takes losing Chris Carpenter for the season to be lost.

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