The St. Louis Cardinals believe their ace is all the way back.
On Monday they begin to find out just how far removed Adam Wainwright is from Tommy John surgery when the Cardinals start their 2013 campaign against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
After missing all of 2011 with the elbow injury, Wainwright showed flashes of the pitcher who won 39 games from 2009-10 last year, but still only went 14-13 with a 3.94 ERA in just under 200 innings.
This will be Wainwright's third Opening Day start.
The Cardinals think another year removed from the procedure will do wonders for the right-hander and they put their money where their mouth was, recently signing Wainwright to a 5-year extension believed to be worth over $100 million.
But even without Wainwright at his best last season, the Cardinals grabbed the second wild card spot and came within an eyelash of their second straight World Series appearance.
First, they won the play-in game over the Atlanta Braves, then they took out the Washington Nationals, the best regular season team of 2012, in a 5-game series. However, the magic finally ran out against the San Francisco Giants, who rallied back from a 3-1 deficit to end the Cardinals' season.
St. Louis received huge offensive seasons from Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, David Freese, Allen Craig, and Yadier Molina.
Beltran was brought in with the unenviable task of replacing Albert Pujols in the lineup and responded, as he became the driving force in the offense, swatting 32 home runs to go along with 97 RBI.
St. Louis figures to field essentially the same team as last year, as it remained relatively quiet this offseason, acquiring a player like Ty Wigginton to round out its bench and adding lefty specialist Randy Choate to the bullpen.
Unfortunately, injuries have once again reared their ugly head in Cardinals land. Former Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter will be sidelined for the year with another elbow injury that will likely end his career, while shortstop Rafael Furcal will sit out the year as well with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Also, Freese and closer Jason Motte will miss the start of the season with an elbow strain.
Arizona, meanwhile, will have a new look when it takes the field on Monday, as superstar outfielder Justin Upton was dealt this winter to the Atlanta Braves for a package that included third baseman Martin Prado.
Rookie of the Year candidate Adam Eaton and Cody Ross were expected to start in the outfield, but will begin the year on the disabled list, as will another projected starter, shortstop Willie Bloomquist.
"We don't need any more injuries," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said.
Arizona won 94 games in 2011, but struggled last season and finished with a disappointing .500 record and a third-place showing in the National League West.
A big problem for the Diamondbacks was the slow start of righty Ian Kennedy, who won 21 games in 2011, but had a hard time getting out of the gates last year. Still, Kennedy, who will be on the hill Monday, finished strong and won five of his final seven decisions and ended the year 15-12 with a 4.02 ERA.
The D-backs, who have won six straight season openers, dropped five of six games to the Cardinals last season.