Who didn’t see this coming? Really?! You?! Come on. As soon as Jaime Garcia left that playoff game last season with shoulder trouble, I knew his 2013 season was in serious trouble. I don’t care what Garcia himself said, or the Cardinals’ medical staff…or even John Mozeliak or Mike Matheny.
Shoulder issues for starting pitchers at this level don’t just vanish.
Garcia was bullish and stubborn at Winter Warm-Up when asked about his achy-breaky shoulder and how it seemed to be progressing. Looking back, the lack of a simple, declarative statement of health – no bones about it – seemed a bit awkward. Instead, Garcia continued to insist he was looking only to the results and work of the day. Not tomorrow. Not next month. Not the postseason.
Shouldn’t we all have read between the lines then? What Garcia – and likely Matheny with his new, “Just take the ball and shut up!” approach for the young lefty – wanted us to hear was, roughly, this:
“Things are great. The shoulder is healed. I’m just changing my outlook is all. Focusing on one start, one step at a time. That’s it. Nothing to see here.”
Instead, maybe what we should have heard was this:
“Honestly, my shoulder still hurts. I know that’s a sign it’s not fully healed and likely means I’m going to be pitching with pain through the entire season, but let’s not focus on that. What does ‘one day at a time’ mean? It means I woke up this morning and my arm didn’t fall off. Based on how my likely-to-get-injured-again shoulder feels after every throw, that’s a positive thing.”
Jaime was stand-offish, stubborn, close-mouthed, and border-line pissed in his podium time at WWU. The Cardinals and Garcia sold his attitude as a new approach to pitching. Instead, it seems to be an attempt to cover up concern and uncertainty about a shoulder they knew was less than 100% before Opening Day.
Eh. Who cares, right?
I mean, I can’t really fault the Cardinals for pulling one over on us. Think of it this way…
1. They can’t force a player – even one under contract – to get surgery. It’s his body and he can decide what he wants to do with it. Going under the knife is never a good thing. If it can be avoided, it should be. Having said that…
2. It’s not like the Cardinals were going to look outside the organization for pitching help. Mozeliak and crew knew his fresh new crop of young arms was ready. Even if you told him Jaime Garcia wouldn’t make it past the first week of the season, I still doubt he would waste the funds to find a rental pitcher – or worse yet, a long-term option that would block one of the young studs coming up through the minor league system. And he would be right.
So…when it all comes down to it…I doubt the outcome was entirely unexpected, and I don’t think it would have changed anything over the offseason anyway. Our pitching is ready to shoulder the load, no pun intended.
But seeing how Garcia was pitching even with a bum shoulder…it still sucks. That dude could’ve put together one helluva season with his “new approach” and a healthy arm.
Let’s get into the rest of it…
The Cardinals’ minor league system is starting to log jam. Ryan Jackson is hitting closer to .400 than .300 most days while punishing left-handers. Kolten Wong is on a sudden rampage, hitting above .400 over the last 10 games with a couple of homers. Oscar Taveras is off to his usual start and should be returning to action soon once his ankle sprain heals. And Michael Wacha is dispensing with Triple-A hitters as if they’re sparring partners – simply there to take a beating and give the kid a good work out on his way to the big leagues. With the National League’s best roster and a .644 winning percentage at the major league level, Mozeliak is going to have more than one tough decision to make over the next year or two.
Mitchell Boggs looks a bit improved. That one solo shot that’s still circling the globe in orbit was simply a matter of missed location on a pitch that drifted over the middle of the plate. The righty fresh off a Memphis vacation then retired the next five (I think?) hitters with simple ground balls and plenty of control over his pitches. His mechanics look sound, his body language and confidence appears to be dramatically different, and all-in-all, he just looks better. Let’s hope it continues. After being forced to use Fernando Salas in a two-men-on, one-run lead situation the other night, Matheny could use a hard-throwing assassin to deploy in key situations before the eighth inning.
Matt Carpenter is turning into the leadoff hitter the Cardinals were hoping to find when Rafael Furcal went down. Among all leadoff hitters with at least 50 plate appearances, Carpenter’s OBP of .394 ranks 5th in all of baseball (fourth when the qualifier is raised to 75 plate appearances), and third in the National League. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, both of the other two leadoff hitters ranked first and second in the NL – Aoki and Choo – are in the NL Central. Interestingly enough, he fails to rank in the top 10 in any other major offensive category in baseball (AVG, SLG, or OPS). Of course, because he’s only spent part of the season in the leadoff spot, his 18 runs from the number one spot in the lineup doesn’t even compare to the top 5 leadoff hitters in baseball (25 – 37 runs scored). But…his total runs scored for the season (34) are tied for fifth in all of baseball regardless of batting order behind only Carlos Gonzalez (37), Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto (36 each), and Miguel Cabrera (35). Evan Longoria shares the fifth spot with 34. Carpenter clearly needs to remain at the top of the Cardinals offense for a long time.
That’ll do it for today! Be sure to check out my stories on the Cardinals page of Yahoo! Sports HERE. Until next time…