As if the St. Louis Cardinals could use more disappointing news.
Just days after the Cards were unable to come to terms with Albert Pujols on a contract extension, news broke that starting pitcher Adam Wainwright – who finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting last season – has a significant elbow injury.
Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Dispatch reported that Wainwright’s exam showed “enough damage to a ligament near his right elbow to suggest surgery”.
Obviously, the news is devastating for the Cardinals, the team’s fans and even more heartbreaking for Wainwright.
The 29-year-old starting pitcher will seek a second opinion, and in days, the Cardinals will know if they will be without one of their aces, but the news looks grim.
What It Means for the Cardinals
If the end result is Tommy John surgery – which is the likely case – then St. Louis will be without Wainwright for the entire 2011 season, and potentially a significant portion of the 2012 season.
Obviously, replacing Wainwright is nearly impossible, and the numbers tell the story. Over the last two seasons in the St. Louis rotation, Wainwright has eclipsed 230 innings, 200 strikeouts and combined for 39 victories. In 2010 alone, he had five complete games and two shutouts.
With the Cardinals already facing a bit of a distraction with the Pujols contract looming until after the end of the season, now St. Louis faces the possibility of losing half of its one-two punch.
Since options are limited internally, it would appear that if St. Louis loses Wainwright, they would look to free agency or trade to pick up another option for the rotation. The best short-term option could be Kevin Millwood, a veteran presence that can eat innings and act as a bandage to the rotation. Certainly, Millwood is no Wainwright, but his 4-16 record from 2010 should be overlooked, as he received little run support in Baltimore throughout most of the first half.
What It Means for the NL Central
With the Cardinals likely missing one of its aces due to injury, the doorway opens for other teams to excel in the National League Central division. The reigning champion Reds should be in the mix once again, but the injury benefits one team the most – the Milwaukee Brewers.
Without Wainwright, the Cardinals may be hard pressed to finish third in the division, and the Brewers – who traded for Zack Greinke during the offseason – now arguably have the best one-two rotation punch in the division.
But even with the Reds being the defending division champs, the Brewers should now be considered the favorites – what with the aforementioned rotation featuring Greinke, plus the likes of Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum. Milwaukee also has a solid punch in its lineup, featuring Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks.
The Milwaukee Brewers – if healthy throughout the season – will emerge.
UPDATE (11:00 am – February 24, 2011)
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com has updates on the Wainwright situation, and it’s not good news for the Cardinals. He also provided some insider information on potential rotation replacement plans – all via Twitter:
Ken_Rosenthal Ken Rosenthal