The banged-up NL Central
Right after starter Adam Wainwright was lost for the season, manager Tony La Russa said nobody would feel sorry for the St. Louis Cardinals, and that despite the crushing nature of that injury, the team would just have to plow ahead, because there will be games and the season will be played.
So it was within the first day or so after the Wainwright injury that Cardinals GM John Mozeliak found himself in La Russa's office being encouraged by the manager, who spoke of how much he liked the team the Cardinals had put together. La Russa has been around long enough to know that sometimes these kinds of things start to even out among rivals; the other teams start to lose their key players to injuries, too.
Which is precisely what has happened in the National League Central. The Milwaukee Brewers will be without starter Zack Greinke for the first month or so, having lost him to a basketball injury, and they'll know on Monday -- when Shaun Marcum is scheduled to pitch -- whether they'll also have a hole in the No. 2 spot in their rotation. The Cincinnati Reds were thought to have more rotation depth than any team in the division, to go along with their extraordinarily talented core of young position players, but in the past two weeks, the Reds' starters have dropped like falling dominoes. Johnny Cueto was the first, with arm trouble. Bronson Arroyo has been under the weather, and on Thursday he was tested for valley fever; it turns out he has been diagnosed with mononucleosis. Mike Leake has remained healthy but has pitched poorly. On Friday, Homer Bailey -- who had been slotted as high as second in the rotation, as the others started to have problems -- was shut down because of a shoulder impingement, as John Fay writes, an injury that the Reds say is not serious.
Right now, the first turn of the Reds' rotation could look something like this:
Nobody is going to feel sorry for them, and Reds GM Walt Jocketty -- who worked alongside La Russa in Oakland and St. Louis for years -- knows this. On Friday evening, Jocketty sent this email:
"Everything is pretty good here. We have had a couple setbacks with Cueto and Bailey, but they are short term and should only miss a couple of starts. We are lucky to have the depth we have to overcome the setbacks. Bronson has had numerous tests and all is well and he has been cleared to make his next start on Tuesday."
There may be teams with higher ceilings in other divisions, but there is no division that is deeper than the NL Central, which has no less than four teams that appear to have a legitimate shot to finish in first place. They haven't even played a single game that counts, and already it's starting to feel like a long and tough year in this division. Extra credit will be given for competitive survival.
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