Monday, August 5, 2019

Clipped Wings?

Posted By on Mon, Aug 5, 2019 at 10:43 AM

The St. Louis Cardinals essentially stood pat at baseball's trade deadline. This means what you saw in July in St. Louis — and to some degree, in Memphis — is what you'll see in October should the Cards be able to catch the Chicago Cubs, win the National League Central Division, and end a three-year postseason drought. When the Cardinal brass chose not to make a significant deal on July 31st, they did so from a first-place perch in the NL Central. Trouble is, St. Louis has been bunched with the Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers (and at times, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds) all season in what can best be described as baseball's Mecca of mediocrity. So how will the season's final two months play out?
click to enlarge Yadier Molina - COURTESY MEMPHIS REDBIRDS
  • Courtesy Memphis Redbirds
  • Yadier Molina

Last week at AutoZone Park, Memphis fans were able to cheer fully half of last season's Cardinal everyday lineup: third-baseman Matt Carpenter, outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Harrison Bader, and veritable catching legend, Yadier Molina. Due either to injury rehab (Ozuna and Molina), hitting struggles (Bader), or both (Carpenter), players required for any hopes of a championship in St. Louis were battling the Albuquerque Isotopes and El Paso Chihuahuas. A Memphis team well out of the hunt for a playoff berth suddenly found itself with unprecedented big-league star power. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Triple-A club won 12 of 16 games through Sunday, its longest sustained winning stretch of the season.

Will the Cardinals find a roster capable of competing with the Cubs or, deep breaths, the Los Angeles Dodgers in a playoff series? As with every baseball team that's ever won a championship, it boils down to pitching. As of now, St. Louis has an inadequate starting rotation. Michael Wacha was among the primary names discussed as trade bait before the deadline came and went. Adam Wainwright has been 2009 Waino at Busch Stadium and very much 2019 Waino when he pitches on the road. Rookie Dakota Hudson leads the club with 10 wins, but has been uneven at best. Jack Flaherty has pitched like an ace of late, but it took him 13 starts before earning his most recent win (over the Cubs last week).

Who can Memphis send north to help from the mound? Lefty Genesis Cabrera looked strong last Saturday, striking out nine in seven innings against El Paso. Is the 22-year-old ready to eat innings in the cauldron of a September pennant chase? That's hard to envision. Jake Woodford started the Triple-A All-Star Game last month but allowed a combined 14 earned runs in his last two starts. The sad truth for St. Louis is that the club's best starting pitcher may be the man now closing games for the team (Carlos Martinez).

Carpenter returned to the Cardinals Sunday and re-assumed his spot as the club's leadoff hitter and third-baseman. (This led to Cardinal manager Mike Shildt starting former Redbird Tommy Edman — a career infielder — in rightfield.) Ozuna is also back, hoping the bat that delivered 20 home runs over the season's first three months will resume thumping as Labor Day approaches. And Molina will soon take over behind the plate for the Cardinals, forcing Shildt to get creative in finding at-bats for Matt Wieters, the veteran backup who helped St. Louis climb into first place in Molina's absence.

The Redbirds have one, lengthy (11 games) home stand remaining on their schedule. AutoZone Park will not host playoff baseball this season. What remains to be seen is whether or not the Cards' top farm club might provide a difference-maker for the parent club. Those two minor-league player-of-the-month awards for outfielder Randy Arozarena — to date not on the Cardinals' 40-man roster — can take up only so much space on a wall. He wants to play in the major leagues. With a .381 batting average through 47 games with Memphis, perhaps it's time he should.

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