Biggest Issues St. Louis Cardinals Must Address at the Trade Deadline
The St. Louis Cardinals are beginning to heat up faster than the grueling Midwest climate. They’ve won five straight, eight of their last nine and are within 3.5 games of the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers.
This is what was expected from the onset: explosive offensive production, solid pitching and timely fielding.
Before we allow this sudden winning streak to ease our minds and erase the team's passive start, though, let’s be realistic: General manager John Mozeliak still faces a couple of issues before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Production at the plate remains somewhat of a mystery.
St. Louis' overall slugging percentage (.367) ranks 28th in the majors and 13th in the National League. Collectively, the Cardinals get on base 32 percent of the time (13th in the majors, fifth in NL), which is a respectable number, but it's not great. As a club, they’re hitting .252, which ranks 17th in baseball.
As much as I would like to say the Cardinals’ home run total is irrelevant, it isn’t. In fact, it’s quite glaring.
The lack of home runs is no surprise (unless you’re of the completely delusional variety). The long ball has been on the decline over the last three seasons. En route to their 11th World Series championship in 2011, the Cardinals hit 162 homers (13th in MLB). A year later, they totaled 159 (17th in MLB). Last season, they just managed 125 (27th in MLB). This season so far? Just 41 (29th in MLB).
Does the lack of home runs come as a shock? No. However, it is somewhat concerning considering how destructive this lineup can (and should) be.
It’s good to see Matt Adams (literally) ripping the cover off the ball since he returned from the disabled list on June 13. Since returning to the lineup, Big Country is 7-for-16 with a triple, three homers and six RBI. That stretch includes three consecutive games with a home run.
Matt Holliday’s bat also appears to be warming up, which is another positive sign. In his last three games, he's batting .500 with three runs scored, two doubles, a home run and four RBI.
Can we expect Holliday to maintain this consistency at the plate? Based on statistics, I’d like to believe so. Over the last three seasons (2011-13), his best months have been June (.314 avg.) and July (.320). But Holliday has been a streaky hitter his entire career.
Let’s take a deep breath and come back to reality. Even though some of the Cardinals’ big bats are finding their stroke, it would be nice to have more firepower in the lineup.
Another power bat, perhaps? Statistically, the Cardinals are struggling to hit, much less score. Throw away their last 12 games. That’s an outlier. The Cardinals have grounded out 791 times this season, fourth-most in all of baseball. They’re hitting just .245 with runners in scoring position.
This trend needs to change.
Majority opinion holds that the Cardinals' rotation is legit.
The jury is out—truth.
The Cardinals’ starting five owns the lowest ERA (3.00) in baseball. Moreover, this staff is responsible for a league-leading 14 shutouts thus far.
Incredible numbers, to say the least.
But can we expect lefty Jaime Garcia to remain healthy for the rest of the season after returning from shoulder surgery? Even if he is healthy, is it reasonable to expect him to turn in quality start after quality start?
What about Joe Kelly? According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mozeliak said Kelly could be back in “two or three weeks.” Kelly suffered a torn hamstring earlier this season, an injury the club thought initially was not serious.
Staff ace Adam Wainwright has irritation in his throwing elbow, a condition deemed not serious, but further damage to the surgically repaired elbow could prove extremely problematic. He skipped his start against the New York Mets Monday to give his throwing arm additional rest and is scheduled to make his next start this weekend against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Can Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn be trusted to hold down the fort late in the season?
These are all mysteries, and Mozeliak is the only one who can find the right answer(s).
If the Cardinals continue to play to their potential, Mozeliak could be conservative at the deadline. Still, being aggressive would be beneficial. As the summer heat settles in, Mozeliak could add additional fire to the Cardinals' lineup and rotation.