Spring Training 2011 Question Of The Day: St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals' postseason chances took a hit when Adam Wainwright went down, but they're still contenders and their fate might be decided this spring by who they choose to fill Wainwright's slot in the rotation.

There are questions surrounding all 30 MLB teams during Spring Training, and Rob Neyer intends to answer them with his 30-part Question of the Day series. Today, he takes a look at the St. Louis Cardinals.

Nope, this one's not going to be about Albert Pujols and his next contract, about which I've written plenty already.

I've also written plenty about Adam Wainwright's sudden absence and what it means for the Cardinals' chances, but let's really blow this thing out.

First off, as I noted earlier the Cardinals are not dead. Wounded, for sure. But according to Baseball Prospectus's Playoff Odds Report, the Cardinals are still slight favorites to win the National League Central and have a 44-percent chance of qualifying for the postseason tournament.

Granted, 44 percent ain't great and missing the playoffs probably won't boost the franchise's ability to entice Albert Pujols to hang around for another eight or 10 seasons.

Also granted, 44 percent might look like 100 percent on the last day of the season, in which case everyone goes home happy and maybe the Cards get lucky in October even without Wainwright.

At the moment, though -- and with all due respect to those who might question the defensive abilities of right fielder Lance Berkman and second baseman Skip Schumaker -- the biggest question facing the Cardinals is obviously the identity of Wainwright's replacement in the rotation. Well, that and the performance of the No. 5-starter-turned-No. 4-starter Kyle Lohse. Management has good reason for optimism about the rotation's top three: Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and Jake Westbrook. With those guys, you basically know what you're getting.

Lohse and whoever follows him in the rotation, though? Starters 4 and 5 are Question Marks 1 and 2.

Actually, Lohse might be just another contender ... except the Cardinals owe him nearly $24 million over these next two seasons, and teams hate junking guys who still have $24 million on the way. So Lohse figures to get every chance to break camp with a slot in the rotation.

And the early signs are positive, as Lohse seems healthy after the forearm that cost him big chunks of 2009 and '10 and limited his effectiveness when he did pitch. In his first 42 starts upon joining the Cardinals, Lohse posted a 3.82 ERA. Since then, and thanks to the forearm injury, not so much. Not nearly so much. If he really is healthy, though, he figures to be at least adequate and perhaps a little better.

There's a competition for the No. 5 slot, with Kyle McClellan apparently the favorite but he's joined by P.J. Walters, Lance Lynn, and (most intriguingly) Brandon Dickson.

Dickson wasn't drafted out of college, but has steadily moved up the professional ladder, and last year posted a 3.28 ERA for the Cardinals' Triple-A club, with strong peripherals. Also, he's apparently a serious ground-ball pitcher, which St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan so famously appreciates.

McClellan's interesting, too ... if only because he's pitched in 202 major-league games but hasn't started even one of them. In fact, McClellan hasn't spent a full season as professional starter since 2004 ... when he went 4-12 with a 5.34 ERA in the Midwest League. I'll say this: If McClellan really does win the job and pitches well, Duncan and Tony La Russa should win some sort of special award for talent evaluation. Because from here I'm just not seeing it.

P.J. Walters has some positive markers, but his 4.43 ERA in three Triple-A seasons isn't one of them. Lance Lynn basically zipped through the system in two years, but hit a snag last season in Triple-A upon discovering those guys are real strong. Maybe his 4.77 ERA and 21 home runs allowed in 29 starts were deceptive, but somehow I don't think Dave Duncan's impressed.

I don't have an answer for the Question, except that Duncan usually figures these things out. And if he doesn't, the Cardinals will eventually trade for a veteran starter who Duncan can figure out.

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