After their biggest stars left town this past offseason, the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers had plenty of doubters.
That'll happen when two of the best hitters in baseball now, and maybe ever are no longer in your lineup. And despite signing other power hitters to try filling those enormous gaps, both teams had consented there was no replacing an Albert Pujols or a Prince Fielder.
And, of course, they're right. There aren't many players ever to play the game that could fill those spots without any sort of dropoff. So what do you do when that void can never be filled?
You reinvent yourself.
And what better way to reinvent yourself than becoming one of the better pitching teams in the league?
It seemed before the season that the Brewers were more than capable of making that type of change. With two potential aces in Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo, two 13-game winners in Randy Wolf and Shaun Marcum, and an effective No. 5 starter in Chris Narveson, Milwaukee owned the seventh-best ERA in the National League last season a mark that many thought could be even better, especially with one of the most consistent closers and setup men in the league rounding out the pitching staff.
But early in the season, the Brewers have looked about as much like a pitching team as Prince Fielder looks like a Palates instructor.
The Brewers own the National League's worst ERA (5.32) and got the bad news last week that Narveson will miss the rest of the season due to rotator cuff surgery. Gallardo hasn't found his form yet, while getting pounded by the Cardinals twice in two meetings. And Greinke, Wolf, and Marcum have all had their moments of weakness so far.
Maybe Milwaukee isn't destined to be a pitching-heavy team this season. Maybe there are other ways the Brewers will find to reinvent themselves before it's too late in the NL Central race. But if the Brewers need any proof that pitching can indeed make up for losing a huge bat in the lineup, they need only watch their rival at Busch Stadium this weekend.
The Cardinals' pitching staff has been nearly impeccable this season, even without any real help from aces Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. With Carpenter on the shelf and Wainwright woefully ineffective so far, the other four members of the St. Louis rotation have looked unstoppable at times in 2012.
Jake Westbrook, Kyle Lohse, Lance Lynn, and Jaime Garcia have combined for 12 wins and just one loss so far, while keeping their ERA hovering under the 2.00 mark. That pitching staff is arguably the reason for a 13-7 record and a lead in the NL Central, one month into the start of the season. It's a quick and effective way to make St. Louis fans forget about Pujols leaving town -- that's for sure.
Of course, it'd be foolish not to give credit to the St. Louis offense, which has been at or near the top of every major statistical category in the National League. That offense does a great deal to help the confidence in the rotation.
But a pitching rotation at the top of its game may be enough to win what promises to be an extraordinarily close NL Central race. And if the Brewers have any hope to unseat the world champs, they're going to need the rotation to gain some momentum in the next month or two, while the bats begin to warm up.
Until then though, taking a page out of the Cardinals' book on how to replace a superstar might not be the worst idea.