5) Michael Wacha: The Cardinals’ second-year starter, if he continues to progress nicely, would be back in the rotation at just the right time. Redbird hurlers are wearing down this time of year and a healthy Wacha would be an enormous boost to this staff. If Wacha’s shoulder is sound and he’s throwing his fastball and changeup for strikes, his impact will be felt immediately.
4) Matt Holliday: Batting third in the lineup carries a big responsibility, but it’s especially important when it’s on a team as inconsistent offensively as the Cardinals. While Holliday’s overall numbers are down, he’s been driving in big go-ahead runs for the Cards at a crucial time. He’s going to be hard-pressed to get to his usual .300-20-90, but this is the time of year when he usually makes a push.
3) Trevor Rosenthal: As shaky as he’s been, Rosenthal comes into the weekend series with 39 saves, second-most in baseball. The problem is, Rosenthal has thrown a lot of pitches in those save situations — and eventually that can catch up to a pitcher. He’s going to have to cut down on walks by trusting that his upper 90’s fastball can blow past hitters, especially when he mixes in an offspeed pitch to keep them uncomfortable at the plate.
2) Yadier Molina: The best catcher in the game is coming off a ligament injury in his hand, but he’s kept the rest of his body in good shape. How many catchers can say they’re playing on fresh legs in September? Molina is essential to the Cardinals’ success. A.J. Pierzynski and Tony Cruz have done an admirable job. But they’ve held down the fort long enough. Virtually every area of the club is impacted when Molina is on his game, which is basically every night.
1) Adam Wainwright: Admittedly battling a “dead arm” in August, Wainwright believes he is on the way back — and just in time for the stretch run. The Cardinals had better hope so. This goes without saying, but with all respect to the tough-as-nails Lance Lynn and the strong veteran presence of John Lackey, the Cards are not a postseason threat without their ace. Give Wainwright the benefit of the doubt; when he says his “arm has felt better,” you take it — and cross your fingers.