The Captains Is Gonna Miss Wainwright

Another week passes and another Cardinal is down and out, only this time it’s much worse for everyone involved.  This week’s news that staff ace Adam Wainwright is undergoing Tommy John surgery is about the worst news that I can fathom.  Honestly, I’ve been so bummed out about it that I really haven’t been able to put it into words.  So this week’s Friday 5 is my attempt to get it out so I can move past it.

Top 5 Reason I’m Upset About Wainwright Needing Surgery

1.  The injury wasn’t diagnosed until late April

First and foremost I’m super pissed at that this injury wasn’t diagnosed sooner.  These days it seems that Tommy John surgery is part of the requirements for being a Major League pitcher1.  With that being said, why the hell did it take the Cardinals training staff so long to figure out the problem? 

Wainwright sat out his last start of the year back in September because of elbow pain.  I remember thinking at the time “sounds like he might need Tommy John.”  Cardinals’ team physician, Dr. George Paletta, took a look at his elbow in October and said it should be fine.  And yet four months later, Wainwright pitches his first batting practice of Spring Training and complains about the same pain.  DAMMIT!

If the pain returned that quickly, then it sounds to me like something should have been visible in his elbow back in October.  Recovering from Tommy John takes time, and four months of valuable healing time was just wasted.  It seems to me that these kind of stupid delays happen all the time with Dr. Paletta.  Back in 2009, Troy Glaus waited a few months into the offseason to get shoulder surgery, which cost him almost all of the 2009 season.  Even worse to me was Dr. Paletta misdiagnosing my favorite athlete, starter Chris Carpenter, back in 2007.  Carpenter got the surgery following pain in the FIRST game of the 2007 season, and subsequently missed all of 2007 and most of 2008.

Look, I’m not saying Dr. Paletta is a quack.  I’m sure he’s good at being a doctor.  But him or someone else on the Cardinals staff needs to start catching these injuries sooner.  This bad timing leads directly to the fact that

2.  Wainwright will likely be gone for the next two years

The recovery time for Tommy John surgery is listed as anywhere from 10-12-15 months.  But from what I’ve seen, it takes many pitchers a full two years to get back to 100%.  As previously mentioned, Chris Carpenter didn’t come back until over half way through the following season after his surgery.  And once he came back it was obvious that his performance was greatly affected by the surgery.  Carpenter didn’t fully return to form until the 2009 season. 

Even though there is no set schedule, I’ve heard this two year timetable for return mentioned by numerous pitchers in the league.  Which is a big reason why waiting to properly diagnose the problem sucks.  Knowing that Wainwright could already be four months into recovery is disheartening, especially considering

3.  There is no way to replace Wainwright

As much as I love Carpenter, there is no arguing that Wainwright has been the best pitcher on the Cardinals staff for a few years now.  But even more, he’s been the best pitcher in the whole league.  Over the last two seasons, Wainwright has been #1 in the National League in Wins, Innings Pitched, and ERA.  He’s the best…around

Every five days Adam gave his team the best chance at winning, and no one else in the organization can match that output.  Perhaps if the management staff would have known that they need to replace him back in October they could’ve spent money finding a decent 1-2 year replacement.  Instead they filled other needs, which should’ve been enough except

4.  The rest of the National League has upgraded their pitching

The big headline in the offseason was my other favorite team, the Phillies, signing Cliff Lee.  Granted, I’m thrilled with the Phils starting rotation of Lee, Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels and Blanton.  I thought that the Cardinals 5 starters would be able to compete against them.  But with Wainwright gone, the Cardinals have one ace, two good pitchers in Garcia and Westbrook, one formerly good pitcher in Loshe, and one empty spot.  That’s not enough to throw against the four aces in Philly.

Even worse, the other contender in the National League Central all upgraded their starters as well.  The Brewers and Cubs both added one of my favorite pitchers from the AL in Zack Greinke and Matt Garza.  And the Reds division winning pitching staff will be back at 100% now that Volquez has returned from Tommy John surgery.  Having the rest of the good teams in the National League upgrade their pitching while the Cardinals are forced to downgrade made worse because

5.  The Cardinals finally had a set rotation for the first time in years

For the last several years the Cardinals have gone into Spring Training looking for a fifth starter.  Granted, last year’s opening produced Garcia, the greatest rookie pitcher in the NL.  But in previous years it brought the likes of Todd Wellemeyer, Kip Wells and Braden Looper.  And while I’m hoping that fellow Hazelwood West alumni Kyle McClellan can step up and impress in a starting role, I’m guessing that the fifth spot in the rotation will likely be a hole.

 Having a set rotation going into Spring Training was important this year because good pitching played such a large part in the Cardinals winning last year.  None of the acquisitions made in offense were a significant upgrade from the disappointing batting that plagued the Cardinals last year.  And the Cardinals defense has definitely been downgraded from last year’s club.  The pitching was supposed to carry the team through the rough parts of the 2011 season, and that now looks less likely without Wainwright.

I’m not ready to write off the Cardinals season just yet; there is still plenty of time for the Redbirds to regroup.  Maybe the subtraction of Wainwright will cause the team to band together and surprise everyone.  I am a firm believer in the notion that St. Louis sports teams only win when no one thinks they can.  But one thing is for sure – as my buddy Rina is fond of saying

Ciao,

The Captain

1.  In fact, three of the other five starters on the Cardinal’s pitching staff have already had the procedure.

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