Last year, the St. Louis Cardinals followed a long and winding path that led them to one of the greatest comebacks in Major League history and eventually a World Series victory. It was a bizarre year. It was plagued with injuries and upsets. More than anything, it was a season that could never be repeated.
At least that’s what I thought at the beginning of this baseball season. It’s a one in a million occurrence, right? Not so fast. After over sixty games, there are some striking similarities between this year and last year that are hard to ignore.
It started right off the bat. In 2011, Adam Wainwright suffered an arm injury in the preseason that forced him into having season ending Tommy John surgery. The season was over for Wainwright before it had started. In 2012, Chris Carpenter suffered from shoulder soreness and nerve damage that will force him to sit out until at least August. While he may be back for the home stretch in September, the Cardinals are definitely missing his presence in the rotation early on.
The hitting has been unpredictable. Last year everybody expected Albert Pujols to come up big but instead the big hits came from his teammates. The Cardinals signed Lance Berkman for a bargain. He banged out 31 HRs and batted .301. This year, when Matt Holliday was touted as the superstar, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina have stepped up. Beltran is on pace for over 50 HRs and Molina is batting .324.
A rookie pitcher has gotten off to a solid start in both occurrences. While he eventually flopped and landed back in the bullpen, Kyle McClellan filled in for Wainwright and got off to a 6-0 start. Lance Lynn, who followed a similar path, looks to be a more permanent starter and has already produced 10 wins, 86 strikeouts, and a 2.42 ERA.
The sub-par record is also concurrent with both seasons. St. Louis was barely at .500 going into the All-Star break and Tony Larussa said he was concerned about finishing below .500 during a slide that left them 10.5 games behind Atlanta for the Wild Card.
Ultimately the championship in 2011 came down to a couple of key trades and a lot of fortunate timing. If the Cardinals of this year can put together the pieces that they already have and acquire some outside relief pitching, they may have a chance at repeating. Of course, some of their players (Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Lance Berkman, Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker, etc.) are going to have to get healthy as well.
So what do you think? How will the Cardinals finish the season?