(BaseballStL) -- Going into every single season for every single team in every single sport there are questions. Questions whose answers can change the fortune of a franchise like that (snaps fingers).
And the 2013 Cardinals are no different. Will the age and recent injury history of Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran hamper the offense this year? If not, is Oscar Taveras the real deal? Can Matt Carpenter actually be a viable option at second base? The list goes on.
But I firmly believe there is one question in which the answer can mean a wide range of things. A positive answer could mean greatness for the Redbirds. A negative one could mean something closer to mediocrity.
That question lies solely on the right arm of Chris Carpenter.
Think about it. A projected rotation at the moment of Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook, Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia looks scary if Carpenter is, well, Carpenter. You're quite confident Adam Wainwright will give you something in the range of a high two or low three ERA. That's ace stuff.
Jake Westbrook's role is as a back-of-the-rotation pitcher. That hasn't, and won't, change.
Jaime Garcia is a wild card by himself due to questions about his shoulder. Counting on him as a top of the rotation candidate isn't wise.
And Lance Lynn has big time stuff but needs to show more consistency. Not to mention conditioning.
The point here is if Carpenter is just a guy you're looking at a rotation featuring one true ace and a bunch of others with top notch stuff but who also elicit questions. If Carpenter pitches like we all know he can then the complexion of this group changes. You've then got a couple guys that can be counted on to be exceptional.
Carpenter's numbers though the last few years are not encouraging, however.
After missing all of 2008, he returned in '09 to a form of pure dominance. A 2.24 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched). The next year, though, everything dipped. His ERA went up to 3.22 while his WHIP slightly increased to 1.18. 2011 saw a similar rise. A 3.45 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. Then in an extremely short 2012 he surrendered more hits (19) than he had innings pitched (13.2) during the postseason.
Now, at 37-years old this is hardly surprising. The fact Carpenter's able to continue to pitch at such a high level at this age shows just how good of an athlete he is and how well he takes care of his body. But to think at 38 (his birthday is April 27th) he can start going the other direction with his numbers and be a Cy Young candidate again might be stretching it.
Keeping his ERA in the 3's could be the best Cardinals fans can reasonably hope for. Either way, keeping him healthy and strong is priority number one. Then hoping he pitches effectively enough to be a top of the rotation candidate is priority number two.
Whether he answers both of those in the affirmative just might determine the fate of the 2013 Cardinals.