The Cardinals appear to have found their way for the umpteenth time this season. In splitting four games at Chicago, the Cardinals were terrible in the first two losses, and pretty darn good in the last two wins. Obviously, every win is like a piece of gold in the National League wild card race, which has become a battle of attrition.
The Cardinals have had their fair share of setbacks, losing Matt Carpenter for a month and Aledmys Diaz for at least that long. In addition to that, the Cards have had their free-agent backup catcher Brayan Pena for only two games, key relievers Trevor Rosenthal, Tyler Lyons and Seth Maness have all missed significant time (Lyons for the rest of the season), and now the club has lost starter Michael Wacha and Matt Holliday to injury.
That’s on top of Jhonny Peralta missing the first half of the season with a torn thumb ligament, meltdowns that forced demotions for youngsters Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk, and a DL stint due to an ankle sprain for slugger Brandon Moss. The only members of the Cardinal starting eight that haven’t been demoted or to the disabled list are Stephen Piscotty and, amazingly, Yadier Molina.
That’s a lot of adversity to overcome, and at least in the wild card race the Redbirds have…enjoying a half-game lead over Miami and a two and a half game edge over the Mets.
The Cardinals aren’t the only club that’s faced adversity.
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw was 11-2 with a 1.79 ERA when he was felled by a back injury on June 26.At that point, Los Angeles was 41-36; 14-2 when Kershaw started and 27-34 when he didn’t.
But since Kershaw got hurt, new manager Dave Roberts has led the club to a 24-15 record without him. L.A. has spent most of the season without starting pitchers Brandon McCarthy and LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu and they’ve had to make do without outfielders Scott Van Slyke and Joc Pederson, too.
The Mets are without their biggest offensive weapons. Their opening day lineup had David Wright hitting second, Yoenis Cespedes third and Lucas Duda fourth. Each of those three are hurt now, with Wright out for the year. Cespedes will start a rehab assignment this week after suffering a quad injury a couple of weeks ago, and Duda’s back injury, suffered in late May, will keep him out until at least mid-September.
Mets ace Matt Harvey was lost for the season with thoracic outlet syndrome, and Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are pitching with elbow chips. Each of the New York catchers has spent time on the disabled list, too. They deserve credit for hanging in.
Miami has played exceptionally well, at one point going 28 games without an error by an infielder. They’ve pitched well, and overcame a rugged start from their best player, $300 million man Giancarlo Stanton. Over the weekend, Stanton suffered a groin injury that will keep him out for the rest of the season. The Marlins have been uncommonly healthy this season, but in the last week have had to place Stanton and closer A.J. Ramos on the disabled list.
The Pirates have hung in there, too. They’re only a game and a half behind the Cards, despite losing starters Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon along with catchers Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart to injury. The Bucs also traded veteran starters Francisco Liriano and Jonathon Niece at the deadline, and sent All Star closer Mark Melanson to the first place Nationals. Adversity and attrition have affected them, too.
It’s been a relatively smooth road for Washington and the Cubs…at least compared to the wild card contenders. If we include San Francisco in the group of wild card possibilities, they’ve all been beset by injury, ineffectiveness and/or self-inflicted wounds.
The question for the Cardinals is whether or not they can withstand their issues better than everyone else. Last year, they were able to win 100 games without having a 100% Holliday (and many others), but that team had record-setting pitching. Grichuk is back and had a good weekend. Has he recaptured his 2015 form?
Diaz, who became the fulcrum of the Cardinal offense, isn’t far enough along rehabbing his broken thumb to know when he’ll be back. And hopefully rookie pitchers Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes will provide enough impact that they’ll be able to make up for the losses of Wacha and Lyons.
It’s a testament to the management and depth of the teams in the hunt that they still ARE in the hunt. Each and every one of the teams in wild card contention…the Cardinals, Dodgers, Marlins, Pirates, Mets and Giants…will be scary in a division series if they suddenly get healthy in October. But to get to October, the winners are going to have to overcome some bigtime obstacles.
Read More: The Cardinals Are in Transition. And That’s Good. So Stay the Course