video thumbnail

Wainwright and the Cardinals agree to extension

If there's one bit of good news for the injury-wracked D-backs and Cardinals, it's this: they open against each other. Misery loves company and all that, but it's still probably not much consolation.

Arizona will begin the season without one, and likely two, of its starting outfielders, a pitcher who ought to be a key cog in its rotation, and perhaps its top utility man. St. Louis will open the season without ... about half its roster, or so it seems. Two teams that expect to define themselves by their mental toughness and ability to overcome adversity will have those traits tested right off the bat.

"Now is an opportunity for multiple guys to step in and take advantage," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "There are some groups that are looking for that excuse, that this or that didn't go well, woe is me. That's usually the foundation for failure, and I've never seen even a little bit of that from this club. As a matter of fact, it can be something that you can rally around."

They'll need to do just that, and quickly. The Cardinals open the season with third baseman David Freese and closer Jason Motte on the disabled list. Carlos Beltran is battling a minor injury. And, of course, Rafael Furcal and Chris Carpenter are out for the year. It's an All-Star-caliber MASH unit.

The D-backs, meanwhile, start the year with Adam Eaton on the DL for a few weeks, Daniel Hudson out for the first half of the year, and Cody Ross and Willie Bloomquist both iffy. It's a shorter list of wounded, but still a significant chunk of a roster that was heavily reconfigured over the winter.

Besides, Arizona has less wiggle room to start with. The Cardinals were a playoff team for the second year in a row last season, going 88-74. The D-backs entered the season with high expectations but finished with a disappointing .500 record and a third-place showing in the National League West. They're looking to get off to a fast start, since it will be difficult to make up ground in what should be one of baseball's best divisions.

"That's not what I expect," manager Kirk Gibson said of the frustrations of 2012. "It's not what you hope for your team. I've certainly evaluated myself and I do have to do things better and do my part, but so does everyone else. It's a collective effort. It's us. If we can have that chemistry and make sure our agendas are all the same, we create us and have the chemistry and the chance to be a championship team."

There is some good news: each team will start the season with a right-hander who has recently contended for a Cy Young Award. Whatever both teams may be missing, at least each has its No. 1 pitcher. That's a good way to start, and a good way to overcome shortcomings elsewhere.

Ian Kennedy, 28, took a step back in 2012 but was still effective after a superb 2011 for Arizona. Adam Wainwright, 31, was solid in his return from Tommy John surgery last year for St. Louis but is expecting more from himself in '13. Both will need to have big years for their teams to get where they're hoping to go.

Both rotations could be very good. Both could have struggles. They'll need their aces to be tone-setters from Day 1.

"It's always won with pitching," said Arizona general manager Kevin Towers. "The Giants had a nice offensive club last year, but they won with their pitching. If their 'pen wouldn't have performed like it did with their back to the wall late in postseason last year, they might not have ended up with the World Series trophy."

The World Series, of course, is still a long way away. You have to get to October first, and the road to the postseason starts on Monday. The D-backs are looking to get back to being a playoff team. The Cardinals are looking to keep that designation. It's one of the opening week's most interesting matchups, and it's just about here.

"I think I'm most excited about a group of guys who have been to a World Series and [NL Championship Series] back-to-back," Wainwright said. "Having that experience has allowed the young guys to further establish their approach at the plate and further figure out who they are as different players and pitchers. Each year we try to get better and better, and the experience behind that helps, too."

Cardinals: New double-play combo

Change has long been the name of the game in the Cardinals' middle infield, but even by St. Louis' usual standards, this is quite a drastic change. Youngsters Pete Kozma and Matt Carpenter will serve as the team's primary double-play tandem. Or at least, they will once Freese is back in the lineup -- in the interim, Carpenter will likely play a lot of third base.

Kozma, 24, has a grand total of 89 regular-season big league at-bats. Carpenter, 27, was a key contributor on offense last year but has made all of two Major League starts at second base. But there's a pretty good chance that for much of the year, they'll be the starting shortstop and second baseman, respectively. Kozma steps in for the injured Furcal, while Carpenter brings a potent bat to a position where the Cards have rarely had a defined starter for very long.

For the times when Carpenter plays third, Daniel Descalso will probably man second base. Ryan Jackson could also get some looks in the middle infield. Either way, it's a new look and arguably a risky setup for a contender.

D-backs: Scrambling in the outfield

A team that entered the offseason with too many outfielders suddenly has too few. The D-backs traded Justin Upton and Chris Young over the winter, in part because of a logjam in the outfield. Now there's a shortage of healthy bodies. Top prospect Eaton, expected to be Arizona's center fielder, will start the season on the disabled list. Ross may also start out on the shelf due to a calf injury.

That will leave Gibson scrambling to assemble a starting outfield. Gerado Parra, fourth outfielder extraordinaire, will likely serve as the primary center fielder while Ross and Eaton are unavailable. Jason Kubel will man left, as usual. And in right, it could be youngster A.J. Pollock, who spent last year at Triple-A Reno.

Another possibility is that Martin Prado could see some time in the outfield, a place where he's played quite a bit. That could bump Eric Chavez or Willie Bloomquist (if healthy) into some additional time at third base.

Worth noting: In 2001, the D-backs played the Cardinals for their home opener, and St. Louis swept a three-game series. The teams met again in the NL Division Series, with Arizona winning in five games and going on to be World Series champion. ... The D-backs have won six straight season openers. ... The last four times that the Cardinals began the season on the road, they won their opening game. ... Yadier Molina is a lifetime .321 hitter at Chase Field. ... The last time someone other than Young started in center field for the D-backs on Opening Day was 2006, when Eric Byrnes got the call, flanked by Shawn Green and Luis Gonzalez.

MLB.com Comments