The concept that you can't win in baseball without pitching is as old as the game itself. Leaving yourself short of starting pitching is one of the sport's cardinal sins. So it seemed all the more ironic that last year that the newest victim of this old age adage would be none other than baseball's redbirds, the St. Louis Cardinals.
After all, blessed with a pitching staff that was middling at best (16th in the majors ERA at 4.54, tied for 11th in WHIP) and at times downright brutal (26th in strikeouts, tied for the seventh-most homers allowed), no one gave the Cards a snowball's chance in hell of doing anything in the playoffs. In fact, the team stumbled so badly down the stretch that it barely hung on to what seemed a sizeable lead over the last couple of weeks.
No one saw this 83-win team making much noise in the postseason, yet the Cardinals pitching stepped up big time, giving up more than four runs just twice in 16 games as they fought their way to a World Series title. Twelve times they held their opponent to two runs or less, in what had to be among the most impressive performances by a depth-challenged pitching staff in recent memory.
Now, here's the rub: can
The Cards have already
lost two big winners from their 2006 staff as Jason Marquis (14 wins, although
left off the post-season roster) signed with the Cubs and Jeff Suppan (12 wins and huge in
the playoffs) was lured away by big
Gerry Fraley of the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch,
Will the Cards be hurt by
the fact that both of these starters wound up on division rivals? I doubt it. In
fact, there may be a Trojan horse-like effect here. Marquis is simply crap, and
giving a pitcher who recorded an ERA over 6.00 $21 million proves how desperate
the Cubs were for pitching. Suppan, as good as he was at times in his three
However, that still leaves the question: who is starting for the Cards in 2007?
The top of the rotation
is in great hands with ace Chris Carpenter back. In face,
Number two starter? Take your pick: Kip Wells or Anthony Reyes. Wells was signed (relatively speaking) for a song after three down seasons, often marred by injury. He could be a huge sleeper or he could be this year's Sidney Ponson. Reyes is someone I've liked for quite a while, and I still firmly believe that if he gets 25 to 30 starts in 2007, he's capable of producing better results than either Suppan or Marquis.
Now here's where things get tricky. The Cards are currently penciling Adam Wainwright in as their number four starter. Yes, they're gambling that Jason Isringhausen will be healthy enough to return as the closer. This is a team that has shown a willingness to roll the dice, often with pleasant results, but this is a situation that has disaster written all over it. If Izzy can't return, Wainwright will have to close, meaning the Cards will need at least two more starters.
Brad Thompson may fill one of those spots. The team plans to stretch him out in spring training in the hopes that he can make a successful return to starting (Thompson has started just one game in two seasons in the bigs, but did make 25 starts in the minor leagues, including spending the entire 2004 season starting).
Of course, the club could
always re-sign Jeff Weaver
Mulder. Weaver was a big-time playoff hero and now that all the
top tier starters are off the market, teams should start to step up their
interest levels in him. He may bag a three- or four-year deal. Mulder may yet
re-sign with the Cards (although
Who does that leave? Mike Smith? The 29-year-old righty was signed to a minor league deal and he did enjoy a solid season at Triple-A in 2006, going 11-5 with 110 Ks in 150 2/3 innings. Let's hope it doesn't come to giving Smith a real shot, but stranger things have happened, I suppose.
Don't expect much immediate help from the farm. Jaime Garcia looks like a very good one, but he has yet to reach Double-A. Blake Hawksworth made a nice recovery, finally staying healthy last year, but he had a bit of control problems in his first taste of Double-A, and considering he'll turn 24 during spring training, his ceiling isn't extremely high.
Rob Blackstien runs www.RotoRob.com, a site featuring daily fantasy sports analysis. In addition to his baseball work on Rotoworld, he contributes to Rotoworld's basketball coverage. Rob has also written for CREATiVESPORTS.com, BaseballNotebook.com and has contributed to Rotoman's Fantasy Baseball Guide and Fantasy Football Guide.