Chris Carpenter is out indefinitely with a nerve ailment in his throwing shoulder.
So, which Cardinals pitchers will step up to fill the void?
Since joining the Cardinals in 2003, Carpenter has missed significant time with numerous injuries. The 2005 National League Cy Young Award winner pitched a total of 273.1 innings during the regular season and playoffs in 2011, anchoring the staff while winning his second title in St. Louis.
In the past, other Cardinals pitchers have rallied in Carpenter's absence to keep St. Louis on the right track. The pitching depth is one of the reasons that the Cardinals have been one of the more consistent franchises in Major League Baseball during the past decade.
In 2004, for instance, Carpenter was 15-5 with a 3.46 ERA before experiencing a nerve problem in his right biceps. He was placed on the disabled list in September and missed the entire postseason; however, St. Louis survived behind starters Matt Morris, Woody Williams and Jeff Suppan to make a run to the World Series.
While this year's squad, with the loss of Albert Pujols, may not be as talented as the '04 team, the recipe for success is the same as it has been in the past for St. Louis: They must rely on the team's other pitchers to collectively make up for the loss of Carpenter.
The starting pitchers have stepped their game up before, and they are going to have to do it again if St. Louis wants to compete in the National League Central Division. Here are five hurlers who have to pick up the slack in Carpenter's absence.
Can Adam Wainwright perform at the Cy Young level he displayed before undergoing Tommy John surgery?
Last season, Carpenter was the team's ace in the postseason despite posting an 11-9 record in the regular season. Wainwright will have to quickly return to form and fill the void in the ace role that Carpenter left.
Wainwright went 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA in '09, and 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA in '10. If he gives St. Louis 15 wins and posts an ERA around 3.00, then manager Mike Matheny should be more than pleased with his production. The Cardinals cannot afford Wainwright missing significant time now that Carpenter is injured. In his first season since receiving surgery, health is a major concern for Wainwright.
Wainwright and Carpenter formed one of the best starting pitching duos in baseball during the two MLB seasons preceding the Cardinals' title run in '11. Carpenter picked up the slack during Wainwright's injury last season, and Wainwright will have to return the favor this year.
Jaime Garcia needs to pitch as consistently this year as he has in the past two seasons.
In the past two seasons, Garcia has established himself as a solid option in the St. Louis rotation. He notched a 13-8 record with a 2.70 ERA in 2010 and then followed that up with a 13-7, 3.56 ERA performance in 2011.
The left-handed Garcia has already earned a win in his first start against Milwaukee on April 6. Garcia can help fill the void left by Carpenter if his output at the end of the year is similar to that of the past two seasons.
Garcia will turn 26 in July, so it is possible that the native of Mexico still has not peaked in his development. If he wins 17 games this season, the Cardinals will be in the thick of the postseason race, but that outlook for Garcia is overly optimistic.
However, with Carpenter out, the Cardinals cannot afford for Garcia to underachieve this year. Even young, talented pitchers like Garcia are susceptible to seasons in which they don't meet expectations. The pressure is on Garcia to maintain his consistent numbers, a task that seems much easier at first glance than it actually is in execution at the big league level.
Kyle Lohse took a no-hitter into the seventh inning on Opening Night in Miami.
Lohse had one of the best seasons of his career in 2011. Can he repeat that performance during the 2012 MLB season?
Look no further than Lohse's Opening Day start against the Miami Marlins to see how he could potentially impact the Cardinals' rotation. Lohse took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before leaving in the eighth, allowing just two hits and one earned run for the game.
Lohse went 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA last year, but he grew tired down the stretch and pitched in only one game in the postseason. Still, he led St. Louis in wins during the regular season and was one the reasons that the Cardinals were in position to make a dramatic run to capture the National League Wild Card.
Lohse made $12,187,500 last season, according to Baseball-Reference.com. He is set to make $11,875,000 this year. A performance similar to last season would make Lohse worth every dollar he is owed.
Jason Motte needs to be a dominant closer in Carpenter's absence.
Motte was a hero during a magical October run last year, and he steps in the closer's role for the full season (presumably) in 2012.
Carpenter was the only Cardinals starter to eclipse the 200-inning mark during the 2011 season. With the date of his return unknown, St. Louis will surely depend more on its bullpen this year.
On the ship that is the Cardinals bullpen, Motte is the captain of the crew.
Motte had just nine saves last season after taking on the closer job near the end of the year, but the St. Louis faithful hope that his postseason heroics will carry over into 2012.
With Carpenter out, the Cardinals 'pen needs to be even more valuable, and Motte's performance at the end of games will be essential. If the bullpen goes through a rough stretch, St. Louis can't depend on a Carpenter complete game effort to get the team back on track. Motte and the 'pen have to be consistent all season long.
Westbrook has to eat up innings to keep the St. Louis bullpen fresh for the entire season.
Since the Cardinals acquired Westbrook, he has amassed a 16-12 combined record over the second half of 2010 and the entire 2011 season.
Westbrook made two bullpen appearances in the World Series and picked up the win in a historic Game 6. After dealing with injuries during 2008-09, Westbrook returned to pitch more than 200 innings in 2010, and he tossed 183.1 innings last year.
First and foremost, the Cardinals need Westbrook to stay healthy throughout the season. If he takes the mound every five days, pitches north of 180 innings, and garners a .500 record, then it will be extremely beneficial to the St. Louis staff.
With the addition of Lance Lynn to the rotation, the Cardinals will depend on Westbrook to eat up innings, especially late in the season when both Lynn's innings and pitch counts will be carefully monitored.
When healthy, Westbrook is a solid asset at the back of the rotation. If the Cardinals can depend on Westbrook to toss over 180 innings, the St. Louis bullpen will have plenty of fire power during the final month of the season, which could make or break a team's postseason aspirations. Just ask the 2011 Atlanta Braves how important it is to have a fresh bullpen down the stretch.