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St. Louis Cardinals: The Five Most Pivotal Players for the Stretch Run

Matt Carpenter

Things have gone south for the St. Louis Cardinals since their 8 game winning streak was snapped. After dropping the series finale to Atlanta on Sunday they went to Boston and dropped both games in grueling fashion. Despite the three consecutive losses, the Cardinals are still just 2.5 games back of the Chicago Cubs for 1st place in the division and are very much still alive in this race.

I know that many fans are wanting to go ahead and count the Cardinals out for this season after Wednesday night’s brutal loss, and I get that. It was a tough one to swallow and outside of their 8 game winning streak they haven’t shown much reason to believe in them. However, considering that their last 22 games are against teams within the division, 7 being against the Cubs, it’s still way too early to count them out.

If this team is going to rise to the top of the standings, they have to play the way they showed their capable of during their winning streak. Players have to perform all across the diamond. Here’s a look at the five most important players that I believe need to perform in order for the Cardinals to make it to the postseason.

5. Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez
St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Carlos Martinez throws during a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies, Thursday, July 30, 2015, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst)

Carlos has had a disappointing season compared to the expectations that a lot of fans had for him coming into the year. Many expected him to compete for the Cy Young award. He just hasn’t taken that leap like we had hoped he would. It’s important to remember that he is still just 25 years old and that leap could still be in his future. But this season has been mildly disappointing for him nonetheless.

Martinez has a 3.56 ERA through 154.1 innings pitched. The good news is that he’s posted his highest strikeout rate of his career of 9.62 K’s per nine innings. What has really derailed him has been first inning woes. For the season he has a 6.75 ERA in the first inning.

His stuff is electric, we all know that. We’ve seen that he’s plenty capable of stringing together dominant starts. Carlos going on a tear to end the season would be huge for the Cardinals playoff chances.

4. Trevor Rosenthal

The Cardinals 2017 bullpen has been a very strange unit. The overall numbers have been acceptable despite some massive flaws. Between Brett Cecil flopping and Seung-Hwan Oh developing an inability to retire lefties, they’ve got problems.

Rosenthal taking over the ninth inning has been exactly what the doctor ordered. It hasn’t solved everything, but it’s still been huge. Players seem to be falling into some roles and the overall results have been better.

Now for the bad news.

Rosenthal was pulled from Wednesday nights appearance after allowing a home run to Xander Bogaerts and then walking a batter. His velocity was down considerably. Matheny said after the game that Trevor hadn’t been feeling quite right.

With the way this bullpen is constructed, Trevor Rosenthal is a player that the Cardinals can’t afford to lose. Without him they’ll once again be scrambling to figure out what to do in the late innings and that just isn’t a recipe for success. If he is going to be out for any extended period of time look for the Cardinals to make a trade through waivers.

3. Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler curtain call
Photo via stltoday.com

He’s gotten a bit of a bad reputation in his first season in St. Louis and I don’t think that’s fair. Many have criticized his play in center field, and that’s reasonable. Tommy Pham certainly seems to be the better defensive center fielder, so I get that. But what I don’t understand is the perception that he’s having a down year at the plate.

Fowler had a horrible start to the season offensively. Through the first two weeks of the season he slashed .132/.207/.151, good for a -1 wRC+. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said a horrible start. Since then though, Fowler has been great. Since April 18th he is slashing .283/.385/.547 with a 139 wRC+. His season numbers are on track to be right around what was expected from him.

The real issue that Fowler’s had has been staying healthy. He’s made two trips to the disabled list already. Dexter staying healthy will be key for the Cardinals. His uptick in power this season has allowed him to slide into the cleanup spot in the lineup quite well. He may not be the true slugger they need in that spot, but he adds some power while also keeping the line moving with his high OBP. That will be key moving forward.

2. Brett Cecil

I fully expect people to close out of the article and leave me a nasty comment on this one. I get it, Cecil’s been terrible. A 4.38 ERA and only 8.21 K’s/9 is not what anyone had in mind when the Cardinals signed him to a 4 year/$30.5 million deal.

Hear me out though. I stated earlier how this bullpen has been adequate but still has it’s flaws. Brett Cecil is easily the biggest of those flaws. He’s a guy with absolutely no role. What do you even do with him? You pretty much have to relegate him to blow outs until he shows that he can get outs consistently.

He’s shown plenty of times before though that he can be a force out of the bullpen. He flashed that for the Cardinals this year when he went about an entire month without allowing a run. That’s who he was with Toronto. That’s the guy that Cardinals had in mind when they signed him. Since Cecil became a full time reliever in 2013 through the 2016 season he had a 2.90 ERA and 11.5 K/9.

He hasn’t given any reason lately to expect it, but Cecil has the talent to be a great reliever. If he could get back to that for the last month and a half it would completely change this bullpen. He could turn their group of relievers into a weapon down the stretch.

1. Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter is pumped

This one is obvious. The offense completely revolves around Matt Carpenter. He’s having a bit of a  down year compared to his lofty standards, but he’s still getting on base at a very good clip. I fully expect his season numbers to end up right around his career norms.

We’ve all seen what a Carpenter hot streak does for this team. When Carpenter is hot, the team is scoring runs in bunches. I believe that will be the single biggest factor for this team down the stretch. If he is able to finish the season strong, I believe there is a very good chance that this team makes it to the postseason.

Thanks for reading.

and let me know who your top five players for the stretch run are!

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