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Chris Carpenter Done in 2012, Are the St. Louis Cardinals Doomed?

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Chris Carpenter Done in 2012, Are the St. Louis Cardinals Doomed?
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The St. Louis Cardinals shut down Chris Carpenter for the season last week, and now the question must be asked: Are the Cardinals doomed in 2012?

Carpenter, 37, will undergo surgery in an attempt to relieve a condition called thoracic outlet syndrome that causes numbness to his shoulder, arm, neck and face.

The procedure, which sounds to be rather complicated, will take place later this month and put him on the shelf for three to six months, as Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak tells R.B. Fallstrom of Yahoo! Sports:

"Guys do come back from this," Mozeliak said. "Pitchers do come back. He does want to pitch again, and this [surgery] will give him the best opportunity."

Carpenter has not pitched in a live game since Game 7 of the 2011 World Series, when he went six innings and gave up two first-inning runs and little else, earning the series-clinching win.

Now, though, St. Louis finds itself on the outside looking in at the playoff race. The Cards are third in the NL Central standings behind Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and are a half-game out of the Wild Card hunt.

Do the Cardinals have the pitching to make up for the absence of their workhorse?

Lance Lynn, who replaced Carpenter in the rotation in April, is 11-4 with a 3.41 ERA, much to the elation of Cardinals Nation. He leads all Cardinals qualified pitchers in overall wins (11), WAR (1.9) and in batting average against (.234) and is second among the team’s starters with a 1.23 WHIP.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Rookie RHP Lance Lynn has done an admirable job filling in for Chris Carpenter.

He has done a remarkable job filling in for Carpenter so far.

The Cardinals were without co-ace Adam Wainwright all of last season after the righty had Tommy John surgery, and all they did was win the Series. I am not saying they will repeat with Wainwright back and Carpenter now out for the year, but they will be in the mix for a playoff berth.

Wainwright is 7-8 with a 4.56 ERA in 17 starts this year. That’s far from his best work, but he typically gets better in July and August, evidenced by his career monthly splits (h/t baseball-reference.com). His two worst months are April and June—that held up again this year—and with those months behind him he can now look forward to his two best months, the aforementioned July and August.

Overall, this team is too good not to be right there in September.

While the pitchers have done a nice job holding their own this season (starters are No. 6 in the NL with a 3.65 ERA), the Cardinals' bats are what will keep them alive throughout the second half.

They are the only National League team that has three players with at least 50 RBI at the break. Three American League teams—New York, Texas and Toronto— have accomplished that feat, but as the AL is the more hitter-friendly of the two leagues, that’s not as impressive.

Carlos Beltran (.296 BA, 20 HR, 65 RBI), Matt Holliday (.317/14/56) and David Freese (.294/13/51) have led the way offensively from opening week, and that will continue into the second half.

Jeff Curry/Getty Images

St. Louis leads the NL in batting average (.275), hits (821), runs (426), on-base percentage (.340) and OPS (.775). They have hit the fourth-most home runs (96) and are No. 2 with runners in scoring position (.283).

They can hit, and that will be perhaps the biggest factor to them not falling off in the second half.

Of the 24 second-half series the Cardinals have yet to play, 14 are against teams who currently have a losing record—and they make up six of the bottom seven NL teams in ERA (per MLB.com). That’s 42 of the 76 remaining games against teams with a collective ERA above 4.00. Against those teams this year (Arizona, Chicago, Colorado, Houston, Milwaukee and San Diego) they are already 20-10.

It probably goes without saying that those teams are the ones St. Louis needs to continue to beat up on to stay close to the Pirates and Reds.

But that’s not the only important part of the schedule remaining.

They also have 12 games against the two clubs directly in front of them in the NL Central, including on the bookends of the second half against Cincinnati.

Pittsburgh currently finds itself atop the division at the break for the first time since 1997. Though they currently field their best team since the early 1990s (and could be getting better soon, according to Zach Links of MLB Trade Rumors), the Pirates will not win the Central. They will be caught in the division not because they will falter—they seem to be too good for that—but because both the Cardinals and Reds will catch them.

It is very possible that three teams from the NL Central get into the playoffs this season, and if that happens it will be an exciting one-game playoff between division rivals to see who advances.

St. Louis is now 46-40 after a first-half-ending victory over the Miami Marlins Sunday, and with the Pirates and Reds also winning, they remain 2.5 back and in third place in the division.

Suffice to say it will be a thrilling second half, and the St. Louis Cardinals will be right there in spite of not having Chris Carpenter’s services.

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