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Cards need to accept life without Wainwright

Onus on Mozeliak to find a way to replace ace's productivity

Talk about a body blow. The St. Louis Cardinals have lost Adam Wainwright to a left Achilles tendon injury. They found out just how bad it was on Monday, when an MRI revealed a tear and that they would be playing without him for the remainder of the season.

What a buzzkill -- not just for the Cardinals, but for all of us. Wainwright's competitive spirit and skill on the mound are traits you hope to find in every pitcher but only get in the very best. He's a leader who understands how he connects with fans and everyone around the game, which adds value that can't be measured.

Then, there are the 200-plus innings that manager Mike Matheny was counting on.

Replacing those with the quality needed to win a third straight National League Central title and get back to the postseason for the fifth year in a row -- an unprecedented feat in the history of a great franchise -- will be difficult for general manager John Mozeliak and his staff.

Yes, the Cards won the 2011 World Series without Wainwright, who missed that season after Tommy John surgery. But Wainwright was an understudy to Chris Carpenter, in terms of being the staff leader at that point, so losing him didn't have the same impact as it will in 2015.

Since 2013, Wainwright has been one of the most impactful starters in the Major Leagues, with the Cardinals going 49-19 in his regular-season starts. They've been very good in games started by guys like Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and John Lackey, too -- St. Louis has gone 150-122 in the non-Wainwright starts over this time period -- but they've had a 72 percent chance of winning with Wainwright on the mound, and that's an awful big hammer to swing.

Starting on Thursday against the Phillies -- the first time Wainwright's turn in the rotation comes up without him available -- the Cards are going to have to figure out a way to stay a step ahead of the Pirates, Cubs and Reds in a very tight division without having that hammer.

Since Cole Hamels will be in St. Louis anyway, why not just put together a package and trade for him?

The Cardinals have been mentioned in those trade rumors since December, but there's never really been much of a fire to go with the smoke. That could change, but it's not Mozeliak's style to add a starting pitcher owed $22.5 million a year through 2018. You also wonder if St. Louis has enough expendable talent in its system to swing a Hamels trade.

But the depth of the Cards' rotation is a major question mark as they go forward without Wainwright -- whether for a couple of months or the rest of the season. Mozeliak dealt Shelby Miller to the Braves for Jason Heyward, and the immediate future is cloudy for left-handers Marco Gonzales and Jaime Garcia, who pitched great in Spring Training.

Both are on the disabled list -- Garcia in the Majors, with recurring problems in his troublesome left shoulder, and Gonzales at Triple-A Memphis, with what has been announced as soreness in his left pectoral muscle. That could force Mozeliak to explore a trade.

Video: Jaime Garcia, Mike Matheny on pitcher's setback

Trying to fill the void left by Wainwright in 2011, the Cardinals traded center fielder Colby Rasmus to get Edwin Jackson at midseason. But this is April, not July, and the list of available pitchers is shorter than the patience of season-ticket holders.

Would the Brewers send free agent-to-be Kyle Lohse back to St. Louis, where he went 30-11 in 2011-12? That would mean waving the white flag after their 3-14 start. But Brewers GM Doug Melvin would have to be tempted if the Cards offered a mix of outfielder Stephen Piscotty and high-ceiling young arms like Alex Reyes and Rob Kaminsky.

The Cardinals' internal options include Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons, who started the year in their Triple-A rotation. Another option to consider is 22-year-old right-hander Andrew Morales, who at this time last year was leading the Cal-Irvine Anteaters toward the College World Series. He's only thrown 28 1/3 innings as a pro, but he has shown the same toughness that made him a big winner in a four-year college career.

It's easy to picture Wainwright becoming a cheerleader for whomever takes his place, because that's what he does. But the Achilles injury he suffered sprinting out of the batter's box follows an offseason rehabbing from minor right elbow surgery and a Spring Training trying to get back up to speed after suffering an abdominal strain in late February. The timing here is cruel.

We could get into the debate about whether Wainwright should have been hitting in the first place. But St. Louis is a city that celebrates baseball's tradition, so only the bravest voices there would use the Wainwright injury to make an argument for the NL to adopt the DH rule.

It's an interesting question, anyway. But the pressing one is how the Cards replace a pitcher/team leader who is going to be missed as badly as a team can miss a player.

If the Cardinals don't find an answer, they just might watch the Pirates or even the Cubs and Reds pass them. The heat's on Mozeliak to not let that happen.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for
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