Where would the Cardinals be without John Mozeliak and his outstanding scouting department led by Dan Kantrovitz? Probably somewhere between “Panic City” and whatever hole the Cubs have been hiding in for the past 105 years.
All right, so that’s bit harsh. The Cards are nowhere near the Cub lair. Even if the Cards used their GPS in efforts to find the location of the Cubs’ misery, the GPS lady would eventually say, “Your destination is on the left,” only they would find themselves parked outside of a DMV. No, no team is in that type of hell.
But there aren’t many teams that could draw positives from having to place two starting pitchers on the disabled list in the same day. Yet instead of utter panic, the mood around St. Louis seems cautiously optimistic. While there’s plenty of concern about Michael Wacha’s long-term health and whether or not we’ll ever see Jaime Garcia pitch more than two months without suffering a shoulder ailment, there hasn’t been a hint of finality to the Cardinals’ season. We can thank Mozeliak for that.
Once the disappointment from the World Series loss to Boston subsided, the talk at the end of last season turned to what the Cards were going to do with their starting staff. Wacha, Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller were locks, but there was plenty of conversation about whether Lance Lynn would be traded or if Joe Kelly would even crack the starting five despite his outstanding efforts in August, September and October. With Martinez also angling for a starting job, the Cards simply didn’t have enough openings to go around.
But despite what was deemed “an embarrassment of riches,” Mozeliak decided not to release the Kung Fu grip he had around his pitching. That paid off a year ago when he held onto Martinez despite trade rumors swirling that he could be dealt to the White Sox, and that certainly has paid off again in spades now that Wacha and Garcia have been placed once again on the disabled list.
When a starter falls victim to injury, most teams have to rely on a bullpen arm or a Brad Penny-like veteran signing to help fill the void. When two starters go down, it usually means “season over.” The Cards are in Colorado this week to take on a Rockies club that has been decimated by injuries and continues to fall further back in the NL West despite playing well early on. The Yankees have often struggled to find quality pitching depth over the years, and that same Cubs team that I poked fun at earlier could see Theo Epstein’s rebuilding plan ruined if they can’t stock their system with enough quality arms.
But thanks to the remarkable job that Mozeliak, Kantrovitz and the rest of the farm system has done over the years, the Cardinals don’t have to worry about their season being derailed. Martinez has drawn comparisons to Pedro Martinez because of his electrifying stuff. Kelly is one of the more versatile pieces in the organization and displays an unwavering steadiness on the mound. Tyler Lyons, Nick Greenwood and John Gast have also shown the ability to spot start and not embarrass themselves. One guy goes down, and the Cards don’t miss a beat.
On Wednesday, Marco Gonzales will become the latest pitcher to be fast-tracked to the big leagues when he makes his MLB debut against the Rockies. Gonzales, mind you, was just drafted in the first round last June. And while he’s likely only to be used for a start or two, that doesn’t lessen what a remarkable feat it is to watch a young pitcher be called up so soon.
The depth that the Cardinals have is extraordinary. It simply doesn’t work like this. Garcia goes down, and the Cards pull a 100 miles-per-hour-throwing Martinez out of their savings account. Wacha goes down, and the Cards go back to the bank, this time pulling out a youngster in Gonzales who has a 2.08 ERA and a 101/26 K/BB ratio over his first 99 2/3 pro innings. Once Kelly comes back, Gonzalez can go back to being insurance.
During Monday’s broadcast of “The Turn,” I joked with Chris Duncan about how everybody should panic following the Wacha and Garcia news. But I didn’t mean it. Thanks to Mozeliak’s penchant for hanging onto his depth, the Cards are far from “Panic City.” That doesn’t mean that this season will have a happy ending, but at least we should see a competitive ending.
In other cities around Major League Baseball, the same couldn’t be said for various teams.