posted on May 28, 2012 12:00
Memorial Day and the weekend leading up to it is a time for remembering the sacrifices of our fallen soldiers and gathering with friends and family to unofficially kick off the summer. Baseball is a huge part of that kick off, of course, as the season nears two months old by this end of May holiday. Generally speaking, all the early season rust should be long gone and each team should be settling into that zone of knowing exactly what they are: favorite, contender, dark horse, or also-ran; powerhouse or whipping boy; etc. Most strengths are evident by now. Most needs are evident by now. And aside from injuries and recoveries—which can happen at any time during the season, from Game 1 through Game 162—what you see is pretty much what you get.
So what exactly do we have in the 2012 version of the St. Louis Cardinals?
The top of that list has to be “Infirmary” or “MASH Unit” or some similar moniker talking about the injury problem. Chris Carpenter, Lance Berkman, Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Kyle McClellan, Matt Carpenter, and Scott Linebrink all have missed or continue to miss significant playing time due to injury. Although he’s off to a great start, attention will be paid to Carlos Beltran’s knees for the duration of his stay in St. Louis. Today, David Freese will sit out the game with a bruised hand. And it is still freakin’ May. Setting aside the more minor injuries—the ones to Jay and Craig, Freese’s bruise, Beltran’s general creakiness—the Cardinals will likely not see much of anything from Carp or Berkman until August. They might as well just assume neither guy will set foot back on the field this season and play accordingly. The question then becomes whether the Cards have enough to stay in contention in the weak NL Central.
A major consequence of the injury issues is the Major League exposure for players from the Cards’ minor league system. In terms of results and win-loss record, this can be good or it can be bad. But the experience for the players is rarely detrimental to their development. Still, it is hard to win in Major League Baseball when a good chunk of the active roster is guys that are getting their first taste of the bigs. Right now, the Cardinals are a team full of little-knowns. And it’s a big reason they currently occupy second place in the division.
Which brings me back to the question at hand: Who are these St. Louis Cardinals? Honestly, some of this is what we feared. They looked like a great team on paper; one that could run away with the Central…if they could only stay healthy. That was always the big question, maybe more now than in any years previous. In the relatively few instances they have put most of the team on the field, they have looked unstoppable. But it’s real hard to play this game from the bench wearing some kind of medical device. It sounds like excuse-making, but in reality it is simply a reason. Look at the Philadelphia Phillies, who are in last place in the NL East. Their injuries have had just as much impact on their situation. We’re talking about two of the best teams in baseball last year, and two preseason favorites to return to the postseason in 2012. Yet both are struggling mightily just to get a roster together, let alone play competitive baseball.
The Cardinals are that cliché: a potentially awesome team that can’t stay healthy. With each passing week and each new injury, it looks like that is what they will remain. Perhaps they can get a couple of guys back and keep them on the field, and perhaps John Mozeliak will have some moves up his sleeve again come July. But until then, it’s really hard to sit here at the end of May and already be wondering what could have been.
Chris Reed is a freelance writer who also appears on I-70 Baseball Saturdays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.