In many ways, the St. Louis Cardinals have been the talk of baseball in 2013. They've weathered injuries and bullpen struggles and yet somehow, they won't stop winning.
But one question lingers on every St. Louis fan's mind: Can they keep it up?
The Cardinals are undoubtedly talented, perhaps the best we've seen in a long time, which is saying something. Continuing at the pace they've set could result in a historic season.
Stepping back, what can the Cardinals do to ensure that happens?
I recently had the opportunity to talk to ESPN baseball analyst and former major league third baseman Aaron Boone before the Cardinals' weekend series with the Texas Rangers.
Read on to find out what he thinks about about potential holes in the St. Louis roster, the future of Michael Wacha, and the competitive NL Central race.
Note: All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise indicated.
What, if any, holes do you see in the Cardinals' roster?
Well, I think they are the best team in baseball right now.
I think the one little concern could possibly be just the depth in their rotation. From the standpoint of Shelby Miller—who has been so good—he's coming up on 100 innings. We're not at the halfway point yet. The most he's ever thrown is 150. So, how are they going to protect him? What kind of innings limit? How effective is he going to be come September, October?
And then, some of the other guys they have waiting in the wings, like a Michael Wacha or Martinez down in Triple-A with a bright future—how will they be if they need them in September, October? How will Jake Westbrook’s elbow hold up over the course of the whole year?
So, you think they might still make a play at the trade deadline for a starting pitcher and then possibly to shore up some of their bullpen issues that they’ve had from a set-up standpoint. Mujica has been tremendous as a closer, but other than him, they’ve struggled a little bit in the pen. But otherwise, this is a really good team.
How do you think the Cardinals will make room for premiere position talent like Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong, and even Matt Adams in the future? Who do you think may get traded?
You never know, their MO has not been to trade their huge pieces.
It’s hard for me to envision—as great a player as he still is and as popular as he is here—but Carlos Beltran, being 36 now, is probably getting to a point in his career where he is ready to move into a DH role or at least to an American League team where he can find some at bats from the DH. So you may see him gone which could open a spot for Taveras. Or, that could open a spot for Matt Adams because you can move Craig to the outfield. That’s what’s nice about Craig, he gives you some of that flexibility. Because he can play the outfield in first, you can find spots for him. We’ll see.
Matt Carpenter has put a stranglehold on second base. He’s become one of the best second basemen in the game. I think he’s really surprised them with how well he’s handled the position defensively.
It really is an embarrassment of riches, from a major league roster to depth in their farm system. It will be interesting to see what they decide to do going forward. They have a lot of good options.
How would you assess the Cardinals' handling of Michael Wacha? Was he brought up too fast? Do you expect to see him again in 2013?
I don’t think he was brought up too fast. You have a championship-caliber club with a need. They dug into their system for the guys they feel most ready. The reality is, he’s probably really close to being ready. So, no, I don’t think so.
I think there’s a real good chance that we could see him again this year, provided he continues to pitch well in the minor leagues. There may be an opportunity, especially if they don’t make a significant trade to get a starter. At some point, they are probably going to need another starting pitcher and if Wacha continues to pitch well in the minors, it very well could be him.
Where do you stand in the Yadier Molina vs. Buster Posey debate? Who should be starting this year's All-Star Game?
Yadi Molina—with all due respect to Buster Posey. He’s obviously been the driving force between two world championship teams for the Giants. But I think what Yadi has now become offensively to go along with being the best defensive player in the game at any position (clinches it). And now he's leading the National League in hitting.
And those two things, I don’t think, are his biggest impact. The biggest impact is his influence on the pitching staff.
The Cardinals have had 10 rookie pitchers this year. You look at that on paper and you’d think, they must be in rebuilding mode, but, seemingly, all flourished. All played significant roles. I think much of that can be attributed to how big of an impact Yadier Molina has from game-calling, game management, game-planning and just making the pitcher feel comfortable with him behind the plate.
I think he’s the most valuable player in the sport right now.
This NL Central race this year is one of the best in my recent memory. Do you think the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates will be able to keep this up for the remainder of the season? Who do you expect to come out on top?
I think, in a lot of ways, it’s probably been the best division in baseball, or at least the top-heaviest division. I think those three teams are all going to battle it out.
I think Pittsburgh’s for real this year. You have to love Cincinnati’s star power to go along with what is a very, very stable five-man rotation. And the Cardinals, to me right now, look like the best team in Major League Baseball but how will they be in the second half from a starting-pitching standpoint, (with) some of these rookie pitchers that really have never pitched in September, or October for that matter? How will they hold up? How will they sustain it? Will there be any significant moves come the trade deadline?
That can be a game-changer for any team, but I see it being a three-horse race in the second half.
This series is a 2011 World Series rematch, and you and David Freese share a penchant for postseason heroics. Have you ever had the chance to speak with him about that?
I wish I did what he did in that World Series. What was he, MVP in the NLCS and the World Series?
I remember just seeing him at the time and giving him a smile and a nod, like 'Wow, you are really doing this.' No, never a conversation comparing notes or anything. My conversations with him have been as an ex-player and now, a broadcaster, just trying to find out about him. And he’s been a very productive player for the Cardinals. Obviously, in the biggest situations, he’s been at his best.
Thanks to Aaron Boone for answering my questions!
You can catch him on ESPN's Baseball Tonight.