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A Look at the St. Louis Cardinals During The Mid-Summer's Night Classic All Star Break
The St. Louis Cardinals lead all of baseball at the break with a record of 56 wins against 33 losses. Pittsburgh, in their own Central Division is now 2.5 games back at 53-35. The third best record belongs to the other Missouri team, the Kansas City Royals at 52-34 followed by the only other team in baseball with fifty wins, the Los Angeles Dodgers with a record of 51-39. There you have it: the only teams in baseball to win at least fifty games in the first half of the 2015 year.
St. Louis is leading the group and while we should feel good about this, the truth is I for one am worried.
Earlier this year I took a look at the Cardinals and gave my projections for the individual members of the team. Some I have been right on with, some not. With them leading the league I determined it was time for a Mulligan, a do-over regarding the team. So, here we go.
Adam Wainwright, where have ye gone?! Leader of the pitching staff, having wrested it from Chris Carpenter in the not too distant past was injured early on while running to first. An Achilles Tendon injury required surgery and he will not likely play again this season. Waino was doing his usual stellar job, having an ERA of 1.44 through 25 innings before his injury. He has hopes of an October return but I cannot share his optimism. So, he was sent to the Disabled List and with it his 20 wins or so.
Enter Jaime Garcia, he of the DL for most of the past two years. I truthfully did not expect him to compete, yet here he came, And he pitched very well, too. While he has only garnered three wins thus far, he has pitched much better than that. HIs 1.69 ERA through 48 innings was impressive, yet he pulled a groin muscle scoring from second base late in a game and has succumbed to his nemesis, the DL once more. When will he return and how will he perform are questions we cannot fathom the answers to. So, strike two for the staff.
I predicted that Lance Lynn would hit 20 wins this year and possibly compete for Cy Young honors. At 6 wins against 5 losses you wouldn't think this possible yet he has an ERA of under 3.00, 102 K's and is pitching better than his wins total indicate. Compare those to Michael Wacha, who has earned his first All Star selection and you will notice Wacha has 10 wins with an ERA of 2.93 with 86 K's; on the outside this is not too dissimilar from Lynn's numbers. But Lynn has a few more walks which has caused him some issues this year. Can Lynn rebound? Definitely. Will he? We will see. I had predicted Wacha at 13 wins; he looks like a shoo in for that, possibly within a month.
Carlos Martinez began the year as the number five starter, yet he has pitched extremely well, well enough to be considered a number three or even a number two. 10 wins ties Wacha for the team lead and like Wacha Wacha he is a first time All Star. He leads the team in K's and has had a strong first half. HIs innings may become an issue moving forward so he will have to be watched closely along with Wacha's innings. I had thought Martinez would be good for 12 wins; again, he should hit this number by the end of the month.
John Lackey is pitching for pride, and one more payday. He is on the final year of his contract and had a clause which has made him pitch this year for league minimum in pay. But boy, has he earned it. Another member of the Sub 3.00 ERA club (which basically is every member of the starting pitchers staff here) at 2.99 he has 86 K's in his team leading 117 innings. To put it bluntly, he has pitched his butt off. His prediction was for around 15 or so wins and at 7-5 now he is right on course.
So, other than Waino's injury the pitching staff is at least within the realm of what I thought they could be with the younger members picking up for Waino and Lynn thus far. Can they continue this run of excellence?
After what I have witnessed the past couple of nights, I worry. Not that they are doing badly rather I am seeing chinks in their armor. It could be the stress of having to pitch basically mistake free for oh, the entire first half due to the hitters not providing a plethora of run support. I do believe that Lackey will continue to pitch well, Lynn might right his boat and Wacha and Martinez will fall back a bit as the innings pile up; not much, just a bit. Both will add another half dozen wins or so each.
But who will fill the spot for Waino? Will Garcia return, fit and on fire as he was for the remainder of the year or will he falter, remain injured? Will the team trade for a starter or settle for Tim Cooney or Tyler Lyons? Will Marco Gonzalez make the leap to the bigs and carry the team to the promised land on his back? Time will tell.
Yadier Molina has been his usual self this half with one exception: no power. At only 2 HR's he is falling behind the curve for what he has done thus far in his career. I was not expecting a 20 HR season but did expect 10-12 or so. Still, .284 avg and over 30 RBI's is Yadi doing his job. And by catching 82 of 89 games thus far he is proving yet again his endurance.
By the way, if you are anything like me you will enjoy this video of Yadi throwing out runners. Some are ridiculous, some are amazing. Watch it all the way through and see what number one is. To me, it is as close to perfection on a throw as one can perform, and when you see who the runner is you will see just why perfection was required. In the words of Ferris Bueller, it was "So Choice".
Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, Jhonny Peralta and Matt Carpenter. Two All Stars and two up and comers. My, that sounded good. Gone until September is Adams; Peralta an All Star yet again; Wong a first time All Star; Carpenter having a difficult summer. Ah well.
First, first (hee hee). 1B is the one position we are having the damndest time filling with a worthy player. Adams was expected (by me) be a .300 hitter with 20 HR's and 100 RBI's. We'll not see that this year. Gone on the DL Adams will not supply much if anything the remainder of the year. And as for Mark Reynolds, as I stated earlier his lifetime 7 K's to 1 HR rate is nothing I cared to be in bed with. And now his HR rate is even worse. Journeyman Dan Johnson, promoted to the bigs at the ripe old age of 36 is not the answer. Neither is Xavier Scruggs. So, where to go from here? Is the answer Stephen Piscotty? Drafted as a third baseman, adapted to the outfield, he is currently in Memphis attempting to learn first base. He is lacking in the power but they say he is getting better. His has a high contact rate which bodes well for the bigs. If he is the answer get on with it. If not, seek help outside the ballclub.
But who? The Brewers are expected to deal Adam Lind in the coming days but with them being an in division rival the Cardinals would need to be extremely cautious as to who they allow to leave to their competitor. And at what cost Lind would come. At 31 years of age (32 by week's end) he is still viable, has some power (15 HR), decent avg (.292) and would be a contributor but again: at what cost?
Wong is doing exactly what I thought he would: double digit HR's (currently 9), .290 avg (.280), 40 2B/3B (20 at the break), 80 runs scored (44), and 20 steals (10). So, he is on track to hit every prediction I set for him AND he's an All Star. 'Nuff said.
Peralta I felt would hit .270, 18 HR's, 60 runs scored and 60 RBI's. He has 13 HR's, 39 runs, 46 RBI's and is hitting .298. You can't ask Jhonny to do much more than that.
Carpenter is where I am surprised. Hitting .266 with 9 HR, 51 runs, 43 RBI's isn't bad, but compared to what he is capable of it is a step down. I'll take the amount of HR's RBI's and runs but we need an uptick in his avg. And a cut in the K rate. He is on track to hit over 140 there and that hurts the team. I feel he will improve, and stop pressing. He is too good to stay down too long.
Greg Garcia is a back up at best, although I have liked his .417 avg in this small sample. Pete Kozma needs to be gone. We need a stronger bench, more timely hitting and I don't know if it will come in the second half.
Losing Matt Holliday hurt: period. Beginning the year on fire with something like 46 consecutive games reaching base helped jumpstart the 'Birds and got them rolling early. Losing him for a month leading up to the All Star break has let the momentum slip quite a bit. Will he return as strong as ever next week? God, I hope so.
Jason Heyward is where I faltered bigtime. I expected him to reach heights of .325, 25 HR, 100 each RBI and runs. Well, he hasn't. At .273 avg he's doing better but not exceeding expectations. His 42 runs and 31 RBI's are below expectations. His K rate is ok at 57 but he hits a lot of ground balls. He needs to adjust his swing and drive those balls into the gap. He is capable and I still expect great things from him.
John Jay needs to leave. Hitting a paltry .223 is not going to cut it for a starting position in the bigs. And he's on the DL now so I feel he should be sent down for the year to disappear. Sorry, but as they keep saying this is a business now. Peter Bourjos isn't doing any better although his defense is solid. Randall Grichuk might be an answer. He is hitting .277 and has power (7 HR in less than 200 AB) but the strikeouts! 62! That equates to approaching 200 on an annual basis and while I understand the game has changed to where K rate's like that are no longer frowned upon, I still believe that a team full of .300 hitters with 10-15 HR's and who make contact more than strike out will win more games than a team of .250 hitters who strike out or hit home runs. But that's just me.
Tommy Pham is a work in progress. He has speed, some power and is expected to do well. But not yet. Send him down to learn.
So when Holliday comes back I would place him back in LF, put Grichuk in CF and leave Heyward in RF. Pham can stay on and play four or five days a week, spelling these guys and keeping fresh for the postseason. I might thing about keeping Garcia around for an infield backup but Kozma needs to leave as does Jay. I might trade for Lind, keeping Reynolds on (I don't know why) and pray Adams comes back for next year. And I might go ahead and bring Piscotty up in early August to give him a taste of the stretch run. He will be a contributor and that sets the stage for next year.
I have covered most of the reserves already and I will state, for the record, that I do not feel good about them. The team is stretched with the injury bug having hit hard and early this year and while they have won, it has been on the strength of the starters excellence. I do not know if they can continue this run of outstanding innings eating and low ERA and if they fall back, the team will fall back. Will they do what Milwaukee did last year? Lead the Division through August then fold up like an accordion in September? Or will this play of their younger teammates make them stronger for the stretch run?
I don't know anymore. Trevor Rosenthal is another All Star but his armor displayed chinks this weekend. The bullpen is failing when they need to be strong. It could be fatigue and with the break they will get their second wind. Or it could be something else: a shortage of major league players ready to step up to the plate and lead.
The bottom line is that unless the hitters begin hitting and relieve some of the pressure off of the pitchers the Cardinals will not be playing in November. But if they do, I still can see a World Series in their future.