Amazin' Avenue: The Cardinals have the best record in baseball coming into this series thanks to their outstanding pitching. Can the rotation keep up this pace the rest of the way and how much do you think they'll miss Adam Wainwright?
Viva El Birdos: Probably not because of health and workload concerns.
Lance Lynn was excellent last year, but his run suppression (as measured by ERA) was lower than what one would expect given his strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen, and homers allowed. This year, though, Lynn's peripherals and runs allowed are in line with one another. He's been excellent. That being said, Lynn spent 15 days on the DL with a right forearm issue and that's cause for concern down the stretch.
Michael Wacha missed a good chunk of last year with a stress reaction in his throwing shoulder. He focused on strengthening it during the offseason, but has never thrown more innings in a regular season than the 147 2/3 he notched in 2013 between the minors and St. Louis. He wound up totaling 178 1/3 IP that year including the postseason, but one nonetheless wonders how will his shoulder respond come September?
Carlos Martinez has been excellent and has a thermonuclear arsenal of pitches. He has not suffered an injury. However, Martinez has never thrown more than 104 1/3 innings in a regular season. Right now, Martinez has notched 107 1/3. We're in uncharted waters. Will he fatigue in the dog days of summer and the autumn?
Jaime Garcia is a walking calamity. His 2013 season was cut short by corrective surgery on his labrum and rotator cuff. In 2014, thoracic outlet syndrome and release surgery ended his season. Somehow, he worked his way back to the St. Louis rotation. He is on the DL presently due to a groin issue. The Cardinals will likely be conservative with him out of concern that compensating for his groin injury could have a ripple effect that results in another arm injury. But the lefty hasn't thrown more than 55 1/3 innings since 2012. Given his history, it feels like it's more a question of when as opposed to if he'll have health concerns in the future.
John Lackey has been very good this year. If you took out his horrendous start at Coors Field in June, his 2015 would be excellent. Lackey is 36 and has undergone Tommy John surgery in the past. His continued health and effectiveness is no sure thing.
AA: In contrast, the Cardinals' offense has been merely average so far. Matt Holliday's return should help but is that enough to keep the Cardinals' bats going? If not, do they need to make any additions at the trade deadline?
VEB: Even though I just detailed why the rotation's continued success is unlikely, the Cards probably have enough pitching and defense to qualify for the postseason with their current roster of position players. The injury to Matt Adams hurts the most. It has meant that the Cardinals' primary first baseman is Mark Reynolds, who is horrendous. He is currently hitting .222/.292/.389, which works out to a .298 wOBA and 89 wRC+. That's utility infielder type of production with a 32.3 K% at a position where the MLB as a whole is currently hitting .255/.329/.436 (.332 wOBA, 112 wRC+). Compared to MLB first basemen, Reynolds's batting is all the more ghastly. It's tough to have a good offense when you're hitting with first base tied behind your back. I expect the St. Louis front office to target first base as a position to upgrade at the trade deadline.
AA: Trevor Rosenthal was a late scratch in Tuesday's All-Star game with a sore elbow. Is there any worry here and if he were to miss significant time, how do you think the Cardinals replace him?
VEB: Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has a habit of grinding relievers he trusts into dust via overuse. These late-inning relievers have sustained injuries while pitching for Matheny: Jason Motte (Tommy John surgery), Mitchell Boggs (back injury), Kevin Siegrist (forearm nerve issue) and Edward Mujica (dead arm). In fact, Mujica's injury paved the way for Rosenthal to become closer. Matheny turns to Rosenthal often. It would be of little surprise if Rosenthal suffered an injury that landed him on the DL before season's end, given Matheny's tendency to overuse the righty.
The Cardinals would replace Rosenthal with Siegrist. Sam Tuivalala would like step into a late-inning setup role. Matheny has leaned heavily on Siegrist this year, too. It's an open question how long he would be able to stay healthy with Matheny using him as a closer, given his own injury history under the manager. I'm not one who puts much stock in having namebrand relievers or proven closers, but the St. Louis relief corps has been thinned by injuries and Matheny has leaned on the bullpenners he trusts even harder this year than season's past. If Rosenthal goes down, the ripple effect could be brutal.
AA: Randal Grichuk has stepped up as a key bat for the Cards, hitting .277/.319/.534 along with a .257 ISO despite a 30.4% strikeout rate. Having watched him, do you think Grichuk can keep hitting like this despite the strikeouts and is he a piece to build around for the future, say if Jason Heyward leaves as a free agent this winter?
AA: Yadier Molina is having a fine year for most catchers but his power production has slipped for the 4th consecutive season, all the way down to a Ruben Tejada-esque .074 ISO. We know the defensive prowess is still there but how worried are Cardinals fans about his bat now and going forward?
VEB: Molina's bat will likely never return to what is was before his injury last year. While sliding, he tore ligaments in his thumb that required corrective surgery. While his bat has had a bit more pop of late (not that it took much of anything to do so), he still doesn't have anywhere near the power he displayed in the years prior to 2014. In 2011, Molina posted a .160 ISO. In 2012, it was .186. Molina hit for a .158 ISO in 2013. Since returning from the DL post-surgery late last season, Molina has hit for an .068 ISO. You don't want to write off a skill, especially after an injury and surgery like Molina went through. At a minimum, it's cause for concern, but I don't think we need to engrave a tombstone with "Molina's ISO" on it until after next season.
Thanks again to Ben Humphrey for giving us a preview of the Cardinals and make sure to go visit Viva El Birdos for plenty more on the Cards.