Monday, June 15, 2015
The injury bug has bit the Cardinals pretty bad this season. First, they lost their ace Adam Wainwright with a torn Achilles tendon on April 25th. A couple of weeks later reliever Jordan Walden went down with a muscle strain in his shoulder. Walden will be out until around the All Star break. Matt Adams then suffered a Grade 3 quad strain on May 26th, which will likely shelve him at least until late in the season. Minor league starter Marco Gonzales was shut down in late May. The injuries did not let up in June. Matt Holliday suffered a less severe quad strain diving for a ball on June 8th. A few days later, Lance Lynn went on the disabled list with a forearm strain.
This rash of injuries put five players who were expected to play a big role on this year's team on the DL. The Redbirds opening day starter is out for the year. Their first baseman and sometimes cleanup hitter out for most of it. One of the team's top relievers. The Cardinals All Star left fielder, as well as the team's number two starter. Yet, this team has not let up.
The Cardinals enter Tuesday with the game's best record at 42-21. They are 21 games over .500, and are 5 1/2 games better than the Dodgers, who have the second best record in baseball. Not bad for a team with so many injuries. The organization's depth has paid off this year, and GM John Mozeliak hasn't been forced to make a panic trade.
The depth this organization has allowed the Cardinals to weather this storm. Oft injured Jaime Garcia has stepped in and contributed since returning from the DL. Garcia has only made 16 starts in the previous two seasons, and hasn't pitched a full season since 2011. The left hander has pitched much better than his 2-3 record would indicate, and has only average 1 run per game in support. Garcia has a 2.06 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in 5 starts. With Lynn likely to come back soon, a healthy Garcia could eliminate the need to trade for another starter. That's always a big if, though.
The rest of the team's starters have stepped up in Wainwright's absence as well. Lynn was solid before his DL stint. John Lackey has given the Cardinals innings and a veteran presence in the rotation this year. Two 23 year old starters have made a difference this year. Michael Wacha has put his shoulder problems behind him, and has a 8-2 record with a 2.45 ERA. Carlos Martinez has really stepped up his game, pitching deeper into games and starting to realize his potential. Martinez has nasty stuff, and has been really dominant as of late. Martinez is 4-0 with a 0.80 ERA in his last five starts.
The team's bullpen has dominated opponents this year. The one-two combination of Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal has been lights out this year. Rosenthal leads the NL with 21 saves, and has only blown one save all year. Both pitchers have been much improved this season. Rosenthal was inconsistent in 2014, and Siegrist had an injury plagued year. With Walden coming back soon, this bullpen is more stacked. Matt Belisle and Carlos Villanueva have been good low cost pickups similiar to Pat Neshek last year.
Pitching has been the main reason why this team has been so successful this season. The Cardinals lead the majors with a 2.65 ERA, which 1.19 runs less than league average. This has happened even with Wainwright limited to four starts, and trading away Shelby Miller. Miller is having an All Star quality season in Atlanta this year. Yadier Molina has worked well with a young staff this season.
The Cardinals offense has improved from last year. They hit better in key situations than last year, and are getting more production from their bench. This isn't an offensive juggernaut, but it is a solid lineup when everyone's healthy. It's still not a team full of home run hitters, but they do lead the National League in doubles. The Redbirds are quicker and more aggressive on the basepaths than they were last season.
The move of Kolten Wong to the leadoff spot and Matt Carpenter to the 2 hole has lit a spark on this team when they change was made early this season. The team had tried Jason Heyward and Jon Jay towards the top of the lineup, but they got off to slow starts. Heyward has shown flashes of his potential, especially on defense, but hasn't been consistent at the plate this year. Jay has split time with Peter Bourjos, who has hit better than he did last season.
With the injury to Holliday, Jhonny Peralta has become more important to the Cardinals. He is the team's biggest power threat, and is hitting .316 this year. He is also been a good fielding shortstop for the Cardinals. After setting the club's single season home run record for a shortstop, Peralta is in line for the All Star game start at shortstop.
Two hitters that have been key for the Cardinals this year are Mark Reynolds and Randal Grichuk. Reynolds was penciled in as a bench bat that would back up at first and third. He has done more than that, even playing some left field. Reynolds has took over first base since Adams injury, and has raised his average and OBP this season. Grichuk has been a power bat off the bench, but has been getting regular playing time in Holliday's absence. Grichuk can use some work on plate discipline, but has played well this season.
This has been a challenging season before it even started, going back to the untimely death of Oscar Taveras last October. With all of the injuries and adversity, Mike Matheny and the Cardinals coaching staff have done a terrific job guiding this ballclub. This team has fought back and came from behind on quite a few occasions this year. They have put away teams in the late innings. It's still possible the organization will need to make a trade to fill a need, but the organizations depth has filled those holes to this point.