The St. Louis Cardinals are in another playoff race? Did not see that coming. Despite having to replace three starting pitchers and one of the better closers in baseball due to free agency and long-term injury, the Cards have the best record heading into the second half of the 2013 season. Not only has the pitching been good, but the offense continues to be one of the best in the majors.
Jaime Garcia and Jason Motte were two key losses early in the season, but have been replaced admirably with Joe Kelly, Tyler Lyons, and Carlos Martinez, among others. Motte’s replacement, Edward Mujica, was named a replacement for the National League All-Star team.
The Redbirds also expect a return from longtime ace Chris Carpenter in a bullpen role. It was believed that his 2013 season and maybe career was over after he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome weakened his throwing arm and shoulder.
Even with so much and so many positives coming from a deep pitching staff and farm system, St. Louis could stand to add another starter or reliever before the July 31 trade deadline. Even if Carpenter comes back and can save innings for young guys like Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, and Kevin Siegrist, starters such as Shelby Miller and veteran Jake Westbrook may not pitch as strong in late August and September as they have in the first few months.
The market for starting pitching is good if you are a seller. If St. Louis wants even a back end of the rotation option, the price could be steep. It is up to general manager John Mozeliak to decide if pitching prospects like Maness, Siegrist, or someone like Michael Wacha is worth a rental. Wacha will stay with the Cards unless someone like Chris Sale is magically made available.
The offense is pretty much set for the rest of the season. The biggest weak spot is the left side of the infield. Pete Kozma was never known for his hitting, and was slated much lower than his draft spot (18th overall in 2007) because of it. The defense is major league quality, but so is Ryan Jackson, Kozma’s equal in Triple-A. Jackson is currently hitting .300, and could push for playing time if Kozma cannot get on base.
David Freese has seen the power and production drop in 2013. His 5 home runs and 30 runs batted in are not what is expected, but not a surprise in a loaded lineup. He has been relatively healthy (74 games played), and has maintained a good batting average (.271). A boost in his production will only help take the pressure off of Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, and MVP candidate Yadier Molina.
MLB’s best team at the break could stick to what works and hope the rest of the National League Central stands pat. The chances of that are slim none, but the Cardinals have the depth to withstand a quiet trade deadline and still make the playoffs. St. Louis will be one of the favorites to come out of the N.L. as long as the wheels don’t fall off.
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