If most of us somehow knew before the season the circumstances the Cardinals have faced up to the 2015 All Star break, we wouldn’t have pegged the team as the leaders in the National League Central with the best record in baseball.
Think of what these Redbirds have faced.
Staff ace Adam Wainwright went down during his fourth start of the season on April 25 with a season-ending Achilles tendon tear. Coming into this season, Wainwright’s 53 wins over the last three seasons were the most in the National League. His 667 1/3 innings pitched were fourth in all of Major League Baseball.
Four days after Wainwright’s injury; setup man Jordan Walden suffered a biceps injury that still hasn’t allowed him to return. The injury epidemic also struck number two starter Lance Lynn, who went on the DL with a forearm strain, lefthander Marco Gonzales, who was thought to be among the Cards’ top seven starters but hasn’t pitched in two months.
Relievers Matt Belisle, Mitch Harris, and Wainwright’s replacement, Jaime Garcia, also went to the disabled list.
On May 26, injury struck the lineup’s core when Matt Adams, counted on to be one of the key middle-of-the-lineup hitters coming out of spring training, suffered a complete torn quadriceps muscle while running the bases.
Adams had surgery and is likely out for the season.
Jon Jay hit only .223 with a .576 OPS in just 57 games before finally going on the DL with a wrist injury for a second time on June 30.
Joining Adams and Jay on the DL on June 9 was number three hitter Matt Holliday, who also suffered a quad injury and hasn’t been healthy since, but is expected back after the break.
To recap, the Cardinals lost their number one starter for the season and their number two starter for a couple of weeks, and the replacement for the ace has been out for two weeks. They’ve lost their setup man and two key relievers.
Of the Cards’ three impact bats in the middle of the lineup, two have been absent for significant periods, and the center fielder who perennially hits in the .300 range (four seasons of at least .297) hasn’t been healthy all season. Add to that the fact that Matt Carpenter has hit .197 with one home run since the start of June, and you see the adversity that’s hit this club.
Yet, with all of those setbacks, the Cardinals still enjoy the best record in baseball.
And, they have a chance to improve in the second half. Here’s why.
1) Jaime Garcia should be healthy. In seven starts, Garcia was 3-3 with a remarkable 1.69 ERA and an 0.88 WHIP. As opposed to his previous injuries, which were all arm related, this one is a groin strain. Garcia should be good to go to start the second half, and when he’s pitched during the last three seasons, he’s pitched well.
2) Lynn should be better. For all of his success over the last three seasons, this year he’s only 6-5 with a 2.90 ERA. During the last three seasons, he’s averaged sixteen wins and last year his ERA was a career best 2.74.
3) Holliday will return. While his power numbers continued to decline, a healthy Holliday delivered a team best .400 average with runners in scoring position. He was having quite a productive season, and with Adams out, Holliday’s presence will be a huge benefit.
4) The bullpen won’t be as taxed once Walden returns after the break.
His return will allow Kevin Siegrist to go to the seventh inning, setting up Mike Matheny for a 7th-8th-9th with Siegrist to Walden to Trevor Rosenthal. That’s a pretty formidable group that can shorten the Cardinals’ game to six innings if they have a lead.
5) Carpenter should return to form. His resume tells us that Marp should hit around .300 with an .800-plus OPS and about ten homers at the end of the season. It’s hard to imagine that he’s lost it that quickly. He’ll rebound.
Now, there’s plenty that can go wrong.
All Stars Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez could dip in performance because of their workloads or suffer injury. Jhonny Peralta may have peaked for this season. There are no guarantees he’ll be able to maintain his first half excellence.
The bench leaves something to be desired with Adams and Jay hurt and Mark Reynolds and Randy Grichuk playing every day. At the deadline, a bench bat or a first baseman may be John Mozeliak’s top target. And there’s always the worry of an injury to catcher Yadier Molina, but the Redbirds were able to work through his absence last year. Can they do it again?
Baseball Prospectus projects the Cards’ chances of making the playoffs are 99.2%. There’s reason to think they’ve navigated their most difficult waters, and will be able to settle down and advance to the playoffs again in 2015.
[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/214131851″ params=”color=ff5500″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]