St. Louis Cardinals: 3 Holes Cards Must Address at the Deadline
As St. Louis gears up for the final 66 games of the regular season, a strong push for the playoffs is the main focus. The race for the National League Central Division is closer than it has been all season.
Having taken two of three from Milwaukee before heading into the All-Star break, St. Louis (52-44) sits a game behind the division leaders. The Cardinals are in a prime position for an epic battle for a spot in this year’s postseason tournament.
However, with the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline two weeks out, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak will be a busy man for the foreseeable future. I wouldn’t be surprised if he barricades himself in the office, crunching numbers and working the phones. I imagine sleep will be hard to come by for Mozeliak.
After all, there is plenty of work to do.
The Cardinals have plenty of needs as the trade deadline approaches. Most already know the offense has been a vast disappointment thus far. And the torn ligament in Yadier Molina’s thumb that required (possibly season-ending) surgery and sidelined him for eight to 12 weeks only further complicated matters.
Injuries to starting pitchers Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia have left the rotation hurting. And the power outage from sluggers Matt Holliday and Allen Craig has kept the offense in neutral.
So let’s take a deeper look into the biggest vacancies the Cardinals need to fill at the deadline.
Acquiring a Starting Pitcher
It was the highlight of the season’s first half. It held on in times of need when the offense was nowhere to be found. And still ranking at or near the top of the majors in ERA (fifth), innings pitched (ninth), WHIP (ninth) and fewest home runs allowed (first), the rotation has kept the Cardinals afloat in 2014.
Injuries have sidelined 40 percent of the rotation. Wacha suffered what Mozeliak called a “stress reaction” in his scapula, in his right shoulder, according to Joe Trezza of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Due to the rare nature of the injury, there isn’t a set timetable for Wacha’s return.
Left-hander Jaime Garcia reaggravated his surgically repaired left shoulder and underwent season-ending surgery that required the removal of a rib last week.
What’s left of the rotation is staff ace Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez and Joe Kelly, who recently returned from a torn hamstring.
Wainwright has been his normal self. The righty is tied for the most wins in all of baseball and leads all starting pitchers with a 1.83 ERA with a minimum 120 innings pitched. He’s certainly in the running for the National League Cy Young Award.
Lynn (10-6, 3.14 ERA) has been consistent at best. He’s saved the Cardinals bullpen from being overworked at times. But Lynn has had his shortfalls. Over his last eight starts, Lynn has failed to pitch four innings twice.
Miller has been the biggest disappointment. He’s had a nightmarish season, and his outings continue to trend downward with no signs of improvement. Since tossing a complete game at Toronto on June 7, Miller has made six starts and failed to last six innings four times.
Walks have been the biggest problem for Miller. His BB/9 innings rate is alarmingly high (4.46) compared to last season (2.96), according to Fangraphs. Moreover, Miller has become an increasingly predictable pitcher. Hitters are sitting on his fastball, which makes him vulnerable. Miller’s command of his curveball and changeup is all over the place, which allows hitters to look for the heater.
Martinez was recently inserted into the rotation following the injuries to Wacha and Garcia. The young righty is beginning to go deeper into games, but he'll need more time to develop the endurance and stamina needed to start every fifth day.
Kelly’s return is a relief, but he will need a few more starts to shake off the rust and get back to form.
The injuries to Wacha and Garcia combined with the ineffectiveness of Miller leaves Mozeliak to search for a back-end starter. The Cardinals need a veteran presence to steal them some wins and eat up innings. Tampa Bay’s David Price would be a great addition, but the cost may be too high for Mozeliak’s liking. Boston’s Jake Peavy is another candidate who would help the Cardinals. The price for Peavy may also be too high.
No matter who it is, Mozeliak’s biggest need is to shore up the back end of the rotation.
A Power Bat
The lack of offense, particularly the power outage from the middle of the order, has gone on far too long.
Allen Craig has had a horrid season. He’s hitting .244 with a .293 on-base percentage. His ground-ball rate of 56.9 percent is glaring compared to last season’s mark of 45 percent, according to Fangraphs. Craig is also hitting less line drives this season (19.6 percent) than last (26.9 percent), according to Fangraphs. The result has been more ground balls to the infield and further frustration for Craig.
Since June 1, Craig is hitting .227 with a .257 on-base percentage. Yikes.
Matt Holliday is also having a subpar season to his standards. The Cardinals left fielder is hitting .265 with six homers and 45 RBI to this point.
His ground-ball rate of 48.1 percent has increased form last season’s mark of 45.7 percent, per Fangraphs. Holliday’s line-drive rate has dipped to 16.3 percent, which is down from last season’s rate of 20.8 percent, per Fangraphs.
Historically, Holliday’s first-half struggles come as no surprise. His average over the first half of the last three seasons has gone from .324 in 2011 to .317 in 2012 to .268 last season.
Mozeliak needs to shake up his offense, perhaps by trading for Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, who leads all of baseball with his .345 average. Yes, I realize acquiring Tulowitzki would be costly, but the Cardinals are loaded with more than enough prospects to make it happen if they choose.
If Mozeliak acquires Tulowitzki, Jhonny Peralta would instantly shift to third base or possibly the outfield, while Matt Carpenter would slide over to second base. The move would allow Kolten Wong to be used off the bench, which would be an upgrade from what they have now.
Either way, having Tulowitzki (or another big bat) in the lineup would immediately benefit the staggering offense.
Molina will be out for a long time, perhaps the remainder of the season depending on how long it takes his surgically repaired thumb ligament to heal.
That leaves George Kottaras, whom the Cardinals claimed off waivers from Cleveland on July 11, and Tony Cruz as the backstops.
I’m not saying Cruz and Kottaras aren’t capable of getting the job done, because I believe they are.
The Cardinals didn’t invest anything in Kottaras, who has a .216 career average in 305 games with 32 homers and 100 RBI. And that’s the key. If things don’t work out, then Mozeliak could look elsewhere outside of the organization for another catcher.
If you like drama, buckle up. The next two months will have you at the edge of your seat.