The Cardinals are in first place in the NL Central.
Apparently the Cardinals’ season wasn’t over despite the doom, gloom and Jonny Gomes celebratory singing at the injury.
Taking advantage of above-and-beyond performances from Kyle Lohse, Kyle McClellan and Lance Berkman, they’ve also overcome a slow start from Albert Pujols and a bullpen in flux to stay competitive and more.
Who or what gets the credit?
Manager Tony La Russa?
Pitching coach Dave Duncan?
A parity-laden National League?
The aforementioned players?
All of the above?
It’s irrelevant really.
Berkman isn’t going to keep up the pace of hitting close to .400; Pujols will be in the MVP mix by the end of the season; they may need to find a starting pitcher somewhere.
None of that matters.
What matters is that the negativity and near panic that accompanied Wainwright’s injury news was more widespread amongst the fans and media than it was with the players and club management.
Yes, the Cardinals were shocked and concerned when Wainwright was lost; yes, it helped that he was injured before spring training started so it wasn’t as much of an elephant in the room; but once his absence was verified, it was accepted. Players, coaches, managers and executives don’t—if they’re any good anyway—think the same way as outsiders do.
They move on.
Players move on.
In the 24-hour news cycle, there’s a tendency to evacuate before thinking about the true consequences of any bit of information. For the Cardinals to maintain competitiveness, they had to get improved performances from Jaime Garcia and Lohse; they had to get competence from whomever took the Wainwright spot in the rotation. They’ve gotten that and more.
There was no need to pack up the equipment and go home; no cause for celebration on the part of a journeyman player like Gomes for a Reds team that is coming off of their first playoff season since 1995.
Circumstances dictate how drastic a maneuver to make in response to an injury.
When Alex Rodriguez tore his hip labrum two years ago, there was a call for the Yankees to go get a third baseman.
A-Rod was due back in May/June. That Yankees lineup couldn’t survive a couple of months without A-Rod? They had to go get a star to replace a star? Why?
The answer is they didn’t.
A different situation is that of the Phillies. Looks of confusion surrounded GM Ruben Amaro‘s winter inquiry about Michael Young of the Rangers after Young formally requested a trade. No one understood what the Phillies were going to do with Young…until it was revealed that Chase Utley‘s knee problem was serious enough that it might cost him the entire 2011 season.
Salary aside, Young would be useful to the Phillies whether Utley is there or not. Third baseman Placido Polanco and shortstop Jimmy Rollins have both had injury problems; Domonic Brown is a rookie and Raul Ibanez is 39-years-old; Young could be a roving utility player and would probably wind up with 500 at bats without an everyday position.
It wouldn’t have been a desperation move on the part of the Phillies to get Young because they weren’t reacting to one lost player by doing something crazy to placate a skittish fan/media contingent.
Acquiring a player should rarely be about doing something for its own sake; it’s about doing something smart—or doing nothing and waiting—to see how the team responds.
The Cardinals are responding and they’re doing it without Wainwright.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise.
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