We’re at the halfway point for the Cardinals season, so we thought this would be a good time to break down the 5 players who will be key for the team down the stretch.
1) Adam Wainwright: The ace of the staff will be expected to give the team its best chance to win every fifth day, with a few more dominant performances still to come. Wainwright is a legitimate Cy Young award candidate and has pitched like it all season. Will he be able to get over the “pipe shots” wildfire that started at the All-Star Game? Oh, yes. We’re talking about one of the toughest competitors in recent Cardinal history. Wainwright is also the spiritual leader of this clubhouse, guiding the club through the ups and downs with class and grace.
2) Joe Kelly: Pitching wins. You could make the case for anyone in this rotation (Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Carlos Martinez, Shelby Miller) as “important,” but barring a trade for a starter, Kelly will likely be asked to bail this team out for a third straight season. In 2012, Kelly emerged from the minor leagues and made several key starts down the stretch. Last season, when injuries again became a factor, it was Kelly who not only ate up innings, but won big games for the Cardinals to get them into the postseason. If he’s not used as a starter, Kelly will be an important piece of the Cards’ bullpen.
3) Trevor Rosenthal: The Cardinals have made it clear that Rosenthal is the end-all, be-all when it comes to closing games. In fact, he’s logged enough innings to have earned this rest during the All-Star Break. With Jason Motte still working his way back to full velocity from 2013 Tommy John surgery, it is the flamethrowing Rosenthal who, as long as he’s throwing strikes, could end up being the difference between winning a close game late in the season….or losing it.
4) Matt Holliday: The Cardinals have a mix of rookies, second and third-year players and established veterans. Holliday falls into the latter category. Especially with Yadier Molina missing from the lineup, it’s important that Holliday ends up with his usual .300-plus, 20-plus home runs and 90-100 RBI. It’s a lot to ask of the former NL batting champion. But he IS a former batting champion gets paid a handsome sum of money to carry this team on his back once in a while. He’s certainly capable of it. Matt Adams and Matt Carpenter are having fine seasons. It’s time for the third Matt to take off.
5) Allen Craig: If the right fielder can somehow find a way to get his bat going, it changes everything. Craig led the world by batting an absurd .454 with runners in scoring position last season. That would be an unattainable figure for even Stan Musial. But if Craig can figure out what’s ailing him at the plate, he immediately goes back to the cleanup spot and creates problems for opposing pitchers.