As we approach the end of the 4-6 week timetable that John Mozeliak set for the St. Louis Cardinals back in June, this team is still sort of stuck in limbo. They are still 6.5 games back in the NL Central and 7.5 games back of the second wild card spot. Now that’s not an impossible hole to climb out of. Making up one game a week would give them the division lead in late August. The question is whether this Cardinals team has the pieces to make that happen.
Further complicating matters is the fact that the Chicago Cubs are currently in between the Cardinals and Brewers in the standings. So they would have to consistently play better than both of those teams to make the playoffs. The Cubs have had a clear need in their rotation and they recently traded for Jose Quintana to help solve that problem. Should the Cardinals be looking to improve their club as well?
The Cards show signs of being a very good team. A lot of fans opinions on whether they should be buyers or sellers seems to flip on almost a nightly basis. That’s how on the fence this team truly is. They have plenty of pieces in place to build a winning team, they’re just missing the key parts. However, the main issue that I have with this team becoming buyers is that they seem to have a need in almost every aspect of their game. In each aspect though, I believe they are just one player away from being in very good shape.
This one has been the Cardinals most talked about issue, the middle of the order. The team is clearly missing a middle of the order bat. They’re missing that hitter that can take pressure off of everybody else in the lineup. It seems like their players are being forced to hit up a spot in the lineup instead of just falling into the spot that they belong.
What do I mean by this? Jedd Gyorko, for example, looks a bit underwhelming in the cleanup spot. While he’s doing a great job this season, he fits the role of a fifth hitter so much better. Not to mention that Yadier Molina, who shouldn’t even be a fifth hitter in this lineup, would be able to slide down into a lower spot in the order.
Adding the big bat in the middle has a sort of ripple effect on the lineup that is often overlooked. All of a sudden your 5 hitter is producing like your cleanup hitter was, your 6 hitter is producing like your 5 hitter was and so on. Not to mention the fact that you add a big run producer to the middle of the order, which is obviously the biggest advantage to getting someone.
This past week on the Bird Law podcast, fellow Redbird Daily writer Rusty Groppel pointed out a great example of this. The 2006 Cardinals were a team marred with injuries for much of the season. Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds both spent good chunks of the season dealing with injury. Their saving grace though, was having Albert Pujols in the middle of the lineup keeping their offense afloat. That’s what this team is missing. A guy that keeps the offense competent when other key parts of the lineup are struggling.
When looking at the overall stats this season, the Cardinals bullpen doesn’t look like much of a problem. For the season they rank 8th in the National League in ERA. For the last 30 days, they have the 3rd best ERA in the National League at 2.87. If you’ve been watching the games though, you’d know that these stats don’t tell the whole story.
Most of the Cardinals relievers have been performing very well recently. The issue has been almost exclusively in the 9th inning where Seung-Hwan Oh has struggled. They’ve been trying to give other people a shot at the closer role but Trevor Rosenthal had his issues there and Brett Cecil blew the save in Sunday’s ballgame. Rosenthal probably deserves another shot considering the options they have because Cecil has been bad at converting save opportunities in his career.
Adding an established closer would turn this bullpen into an absolute force. Rosenthal and Cecil could be deployed in close, late inning situations. Plus, Seung-Hwan Oh can still be a very valuable reliever for this team. He has held right handed hitters to a .207/.261/.282 slash line this season. If he is used almost exclusively against righties he can be very good. That’s just not possible when he’s being utilized in the closer role. The rest of the relievers are doing their jobs very well.
This one came up big in Sunday’s game against the Pirates when Paul DeJong couldn’t come up with a one hopper and put the tying run aboard in the ninth inning. The Cardinals need a good defensive shortstop. When it comes to fielding a good defense, it all starts there.
The emergence of Jedd Gyorko defensively at third base has been huge in improving the infield defense since last season. Kolten Wong coming off the disabled list will surely help too. Also, while I may catch some heat for this, Matt Carpenter appears to be making some big improvements defensively at first base. Carpenter will never be great defensively, but he’s looking more and more adequate there.
I believe that the shortstop really sets the tone for the infield defense. The Cardinals don’t need somebody as good as Andrelton Simmons, but a sure handed player with above average range would really move the needle.
How do they get these players?
The honest truth here is that it will be impossible to acquire these players all at once. And it won’t be easy to get any single one of them. When it comes to valuing players, 3rd or 4th hitters, closers, and shortstops are some of the most valued commodities in the game.
While I don’t necessarily think this team should be buyers, I think they absolutely have to try to add one of these three pieces for the long term as quickly as possible. If they can pull that off then maybe they can find some stopgaps at the other two spots. Unfortunately, I don’t see any way to fix all three of these spots during the season.
I get the sense that the front office realizes that these are long term issues and not something that can throw a band-aid on and get through the season. They don’t seem interested at all in paying a high price for a rental, and that’s very smart of them. The complimentary pieces are in place all around the diamond, they just need that one player in each aspect to turn this team into the winning teams that we’re used to seeing here in St. Louis.
Thanks for reading!