Cardinal Nation, it’s almost officially panic time.
Last night, Big Time Timmy Jim Lincecum became the most recent National League hurler that the St. Louis Cardinals have made to look like he’s Greg Maddux, allowing just four hits and two walks without surrendering a run over eight innings. Lincecum became the fourth starting pitcher in five games to pitch at least seven innings while allowing one run or less against the Bird’s lackluster offense.
I’m not trying to exaggerate the Cardinals struggles here. In their defense, they faced three elite pitchers in the Los Angeles series, and Lincecum is obviously hot right now with an excellent follow-up to last week’s no hitter, but it feels like the wheels are starting to come off of the bus a little bit. The Cardinals have the second fewest home runs and runs scored of any team in baseball. They aren’t even hitting .250 as a team and they rank 26th in OPS. If the Cardinals as a team were to be compared accurately to one hitter, they, as a group would be Martin Prado, who carries almost an identical line as the Cards offense. John Mozeliak has called on phenom Oscar Taveras for help, but who knows how much of a life preserver Oscar is actually capable of throwing out there. Mozeliak waited entirely too long to promote the young slugger and now instead of easing him in to an every day role, Taveras is batting in the second slot and is expected to be an offensive force from his first day in the lineup.
I’m not one to jump to conclusions or fly off the handle after a few bad games. One thing that has become blatantly clear to me after religiously following baseball for 20 years is that it’s a long season and the cream always rises to the top. I’m just not convinced that this Cardinals team is “cream” at this point. The rotation, which is the only reason this team has a wish and a prayer for a playoff spot right now, could be headed for implosion. While Adam Wainwright looks like he’s in mid-season form, Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn are approaching the time where they traditionally regress in June and July. Michael Wacha’s injury is much more serious than the Cardinals are letting on and it could lower what his ultimate ceiling is. Jaime Garcia can no longer be trusted in general, and Joe Kelly is having setback after setback in his rehab process and at this point it’s unclear when he might be ready to not just join the rotation, but also pitch effectively. With Matheny still having a microscopic leash on Carlos Martinez and Kelly assumingly having the same when he returns, Miller and Lynn will need to start going deep in to ballgames or the bullpen will become taxed as well.
There’s been a massive call for arms in Cardinal nation, with many speculating about the prospect of acquiring Tampa Bay left-hander David Price. Not only would a move for someone like Price be irresponsible but it would probably be futile as well. I’m not trying to say that this is a lost season yet by any means, but I’m not sure selling the farm for a David Price would even push this team in to the playoffs. It’s one guy pitching every five days. They’ll still need to create offense on the days Price would pitch. What the Cards need at this point is a game-changing bat, and I just don’t see that coming to fruition considering who’s available. If the team flips Oscar Taveras, Carlos Martinez, and a third quality player (which is probably the package it would take to get Price) they then have to pay Price Justin Verlander-type money at the end of next year to keep him. The dearth of high quality bats available in baseball in general at this point should make Taveras an ironclad untouchable piece.
The Cards are better off letting Oscar play every day, moving Allen Craig for a mid-level starter (Tyson Ross? Kyle Kendrick?), and hoping that somehow the offense rights the ship and keeps the Cards in striking distance come September. The future is bright and even if this is an off-year, the team is still poised to contend for a very long period of time. Roll with the punches and hope the guys we currently have with birds on their chest have what it takes to surge in the second half instead of unloading young talent for the hot commodity of the season. If they don’t, the Cardinals have had an excellent run for the past few years and will continue to have one after this season, but one bad year is certainly better than the alternative of selling off three young and cost controlled pieces for a guy that walks away for nothing a year from now.