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The starting rotation for the Cardinals has been an absolute mess the last couple of years. After a rare stretch of longevity, thanks to horses like Chris Carpenter, Jeff Suppan, and Jason Marquis, the Cardinals experienced the injury bug like never before. Carpenter has only made four starts the last two years, and Mark Mulder completely imploded, leaving the Birds very undermanned.
This Spring Training, there is reason for hope. Carpenter appears to be healthy again (finally), Adam Wainwright is coming into his own as an ace-quality pitcher, and Joel Piñeiro has had an amazing spring.
Because of durability concerns, Wainwright is more or less the club ace. He's 25-15 in his last two seasons but has actually been better than that, as his 3.20 ERA for 2008 hints toward. If Wainwright can avoid freak injuries, he should be good for 15 wins and a sub-4.00 ERA, if not better.
Carpenter is certainly the wild card in this equation. When healthy, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. He's been dominant this spring, only allowing runs in his most recent start, and pitching efficiently. If he can start 35 games, the Cardinals are a completely different club.
Kyle Lohse had newfound success for the Cards last season and was rewarded with a four-year deal. As a No. 3 starter, if he can emulate his numbers from last season (15-6, 3.78 ERA), he's a steal. Twelve wins and an ERA around four is more likely.
Todd Wellemeyer was an even bigger surprise than Lohse last year, and some inside the organization including pitching sage Dave Duncan think that he can be even better in 2009. In his first full season as a starter, Wellemeyer was 13-9 with a 3.71 ERA. Dunc always claimed that Wellemeyer had the stuff to be a good starter, but the 191 innings now represent almost half his career total, meaning they might take a toll on his arm.
Piñeiro made a name for himself earlier this spring by complaining that he was left off Puerto Rico's World Baseball Classic roster by PR manager and Cards third-base coach Jose Oquendo, and then has backed up his moaning with some of the best pitching of his life. Although it's only Spring Training, his sub-1.80 ERA hints that he might be able to be a solid starter. If he can keep his ERA around four and go deeper into ballgames, he'll be just what the Birds need in the No. 5 spot.
St. Louis also has surprising starting depth. Relievers Brad Thompson and Kyle McClellan are good for spot starts, and they also have Jess Todd, Clayton Mortensen, and Adam Ottavino waiting in the wings. Even if they're hit by injuries like the last couple of seasons, the 2009 Cardinals look like they have the talent and depth to have a solid if not good rotation.
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