Ways for the St. Louis Cardinals to Overcome Jaime Garcia's Injury

Dan Kukla@@kooks13Correspondent IIIJune 20, 2012

Ways for the St. Louis Cardinals to Overcome Jaime Garcia's Injury

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    Jaime Garcia's injury comes as the latest of many suffered by the St. Louis Cardinals this season, but the Show Me State's favorite team must go on.

    Garcia joins key players such as Chris Carpenter, Jon Jay and Lance Berkman on the disabled list with his torn rotator cuff and labrum. Joe Strauss reports for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he will be out at least six weeks. The injury will likely cost him two months. Strauss quoted Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak saying that surgery is "not on the table."

    The discussion surrounding St. Louis' rotation suddenly shifts from "who is the odd man out when Carpenter returns?" to "what the heck does the team do until then?"

    "Clearly we don't have the capacity to maintain a winning club throughout the year as we are today," Mozeliak said, according to Strauss' story. "When you have seven or eight guys on the DL and you think there's a chance you get four or five of them back to contribute at some point, then the answer becomes 'when.' That's the floating target. If that target is something we don't get to until August or September, it's probably too late."

    Regardless of circumstances, the Cardinals remain in a race for the National League Central division title. The Cincinnati Reds certainly won't feel sorry for St. Louis, nor will they cut their rivals any slack.

    Mo doesn't think the Cardinals can compete the way they are now, so let's look at what must change.

Joe Kelly

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    Joe Kelly earned the first chance to take Garcia's spot in the Cardinals rotation. St. Louis chose him over Brandon Dickson, who made appearances at the MLB level in each of the last two seasons.

    Kelly saw mixed results in his first two major league starts, both of which came at Busch Stadium in front of a home crowd eager to see what this kid brings to the table.

    He allowed only one earned run in his MLB debut against the Cleveland Indians. He walked one and struck out four over five innings of work just one day after his 24th birthday. He surrendered three runs (two earned) during his next time out against the Kansas City Royals while walking one and striking out three over 4.1 innings.

    Here is a scouting report on the young 6'1", 185 pound, right-handed pitcher written by John Sickels for MinorLeagueBall.com.

    His key pitch is his fastball, clocked as high as 98-100 mph when used in relief. It is a consistent 91-95 mph pitch as a starter. The fastball has unusually strong sinking movement; sometimes it moves like a splitter. His secondary pitches are a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. These all have their moments, but none of them are dominant pitches and ultimately he lives and dies with the sinker.

    Sickels notes that Kelly may be better suited as a reliever because his long arm action could cause durability issues as a starter. His repertoire of pitches also seems to be better suited for the bullpen. Although Kelly saw work as both a starter and reliever in the minors, he was drafted as a potential closer.

    The young gun can help the Cardinals tread water for now. Lance Lynn has already shown that a developing arm can transition quite nicely from a reliever to a starter. But Kelly does not appear to be a long-term solution in the rotation.

Chris Carpenter

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    Remember when pondering which hot Cardinal starter would be bumped from the rotation was a fun debate in St. Louis?

    Those days are gone now.

    Jaime Garcia's injury leaves a welcoming hole for Chris Carpenter to fill. Even more concerning is the reality that Carpenter's projected return keeps getting pushed back.

    Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak once expected his ace back in May. Now Joe Strauss reports for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he won't even return to throwing off a mound for at least another week. According to the story, Mozeliak said earlier this month that the club's training and medical staffs hope to clarify Carpenter's timetable before July 1.

    All of this is to help prioritize the team's needs as it approaches the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31. Right now, Carpenter's status is unknown.

Shelby Miller

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    Casual fans probably wondered why Joe Kelly got the call to replace Jaime Garcia instead of Shelby Miller.

    Miller is considered one of the top prospects in all of Major League Baseball. ESPN's Keith Law ranked him as the ninth best player in the minor leagues on May 25.

    There were whispers during spring training that Miller would take Chris Carpenter's spot in the rotation to start the season. That spot was wisely given to Lance Lynn instead. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Miller is still not ready to help out now that another opening exists.

    Derrick Goold reports for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Miller was given a no-shake rule. This means that he is not allowed to shake off the catcher's signs. It comes with a fine-tuning of his mechanics.

    Such measures are being taken in response to Miller's poor transition to the Triple-A level in Memphis. Losing for the fourth consecutive time on Saturday dropped his record to 4-6 and inflated his ERA to 6.00.

    Miller may not be ready for the majors at any point this season. If he is, that point doesn't appear to be coming soon enough to help fill Garcia's spot.

Brandon Dickson

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    Brandon Dickson once looked to be first in line to receive a call-up in the even of an injury like Jaime Garcia's. Although the first shot went to Joe Kelly instead, Dickson still looms as a potential candidate if he struggles.

    The case for Dickson lies mostly with his experience at the MLB level. He has made six total appearances for the Cardinals over the past two years.

    Dickson's combined MLB numbers look great. He owns a 2.53 ERA in 10.2 innings with eight strikeouts, three walks and 12 hits allowed.

    But the majority of the damage against Dickson came in his only start. The Cardinals won 8-4 against the Milwaukee Brewers. Dickson, however, lasted just 3.1 innings. He allowed three earned runs on two home runs while facing 16 batters.

    This year Dickson has made two relief appearances for St. Louis. He was not charged with any earned runs during those 2.1 innings of work, but an unearned run did score during his last outing on May 24 against the Philadelphia Phillies.

    As the team stands now, Dickson is likely the first backup plan for the starting rotation in the event of another injury or an ineffective pitcher.

Potential Trades

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    Jaime Garcia's injury and Chris Carpenter's unknown status may put the Cardinals in the market to trade for another starting pitcher.

    That's a situation St. Louis wants to avoid. The team has other needs and would like to spend its resources elsewhere.

    Whether or not the Cardinals deal for another starter depends on the health of Garcia and Carpenter and the performance of recent call-up Joe Kelly. If Carpenter continues to progress and Garcia avoids surgery, then St. Louis may opt to hold tight. If either of those pitchers suffer set backs and Kelly doesn't fill in well enough, then the Cardinals may have no choice but to make a trade.

    The following excerpt from a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story written by Joe Strauss alludes to the fact that the team is at least considering the possibility of a trade for starting pitching.

    General manager John Mozeliak said earlier this month that the club's training and medical staffs hope to clarify Carpenter's timetable before July 1. At that point the club intends to prioritize its needs as it approaches the July 31 for the non-waiver trade deadline.

    Bleacher Report's Mark Miller lists 10 starting pitchers that may move before the trade deadline. The list is full of tempting options, although many could be pricey.

Current Cardinal Pitchers

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    Regardless of who fills in for Jaime Garcia, the other four starters must step up as well.

    Cardinal pitchers finish April with the second best ERA in the majors (2.61) behind only the Washington Nationals. But May's ERA inflated to 4.72, which checked in at fourth to last. June's mark of 4.27 isn't much better.

    Lance Lynn has been a consistent source of wins all season. His 4-0 April came with a 1.33 ERA. He is 6-3 since then with ERA's well above 3.00 in each of the past two months. Tuesday's loss to the Tigers stands as his worst outing of the season as he surrendered five earned runs in as many innings.

    Kyle Lohse saw an even more dramatic spike from April to May but returned to form in June. Jake Westbrook has not been so fortunate. Like Lohse, his sub-2.00 ERA from April nearly rose above 6.00 in May. Unlike Lohse, his June numbers remain inflated.

    Adam Wainwright is the only pitcher of the group to see his performance consistently improve over the season. The Cardinals now need him to take over as staff ace and lead the other starters back to their April form.

Cardinal Offense

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    Cardinal hitting has also seen a recent drop off in production.

    St. Louis finished the April ranked fifth overall in runs scored with 113. Only the Atlanta Braves crossed home plate more times in the National League. May was even better as the Cardinals drove in 157 runs, second only to the Texas Rangers in all of the majors.

    June, however, has brought a scoring drought. St. Louis ranks 25th in the majors this month with only 62 runs scored.

    The St. Louis Post-Dispatch Cardinal beat writers all discuss what could be plaguing the team's offense. Joe Strauss thinks they rely too much on home runs. Derrick Goold and Rick Hummel point to all of the injuries. Dan O'Neil calls out Rafael Furcal while Tom Timmermann names nearly the entire lineup.

    Cardinal hitters can't help Cardinal pitchers on the mound. They can, however, cover up their mistakes with better run support. With the rotation in flux, the offense needs to step up.