Cardinals can't let injuries derail season

John Mozeliak must be wishing that Punxsutawney Phil had predicted a few more weeks of winter, because the Cardinals GM hasn't exactly made a lot of positive progress so far this winter: He sent defensive whiz Brendan Ryan to Seattle, wasn't able to get a deal done with free-agent-to-be Albert Pujols and went out and signed Nick Punto (kidding). And now comes this news:

Adam Wainwright, a 20-game winner for the Cardinals a year ago and the runner-up for the Cy Young Award, was being sent back to St. Louis Wednesday for tests on his injured right elbow amid concern that he could be lost for the season.

General manager John Mozeliak said "things do not look encouraging" for the right-hander, who injured his elbow during Monday's bullpen session.

Mozeliak stopped short of saying Wainwright would need Tommy John surgery.

"I don't want to speculate, but obviously ligament damage, that's usually what it results in," he said.

This is easily the worst news of all for the Cardinals. They were going to be able to compensate for Ryan's loss, they still have Pujols at least for this season and Nick Punto, well, he's one year younger than Aaron Miles. But how many teams could lose their staff ace and still make the playoffs?

One of the reasons that the Cardinals couldn't repeat as NL Central division champions last year was an inability to deal with injuries. Once Brad Penny went down, the rotation struggled until Mozeliak acquired Jake Westbrook. But Westbrook came at the expense of giving up right fielder Ryan Ludwick. And when up-and-coming third baseman David Freese had his breakout season ended by injury, Mozeliak unwisely replaced him with Pedro Feliz, whose .216 wOBA was an albatross for the Cardinal offense.

The Cardinals weren't the only team victimized by injuries last year, nor will they be this year. But in 2010, the Braves, Phillies and Twins (among others) all overcame their afflictions by rearming from within and without -- and contended. As difficult as Wainwright would be to replace -- if they indeed need to -- Mozeliak can't let injuries have the last word with the Cardinals again this year. Losing your best pitcher stinks, but the bright side is that the Cardinals have plenty of time to conquer the problem. Even if spring is right around the corner.

Matt Philip writes Fungoes, a blog about the St. Louis Cardinals.