ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – We’re on the other side of the All-Star Break, and it’s time to get serious. The Cardinals return to Busch Stadium tonight to open a three-game series with the Florida Marlins, a fellow wild card contender in the National League.
1) Wait, are we writing off the Cardinals and handing the NL Central title to the Cubs? No, not exactly. The Redbirds, surprisingly, are only seven games out of first place as they resume play today.
While covering the All-Star Game in San Diego, I asked Cubs ace Jake Arrieta to evaluate the Cards-Cubs rivalry so far:
“Well, lately, I think they’ve gotten the better of us,” Arrieta told me. “We’ve scuffled the last couple weeks, though. I think that’s pretty obvious. It’s been tough, but we expect dogfights from (the Cardinals), from Pittsburgh…whether it’s the beginning of the year or the end of the year. All the way through.”
2) And that’s the thing: It’s a 162-game season. You have to let it play out, including the games behind the games: trade talks. Don’t think the Cardinals won’t attempt to be aggressive in acquiring some pitching help. The Red Sox just dealt prized prospect Anderson Espinoza on Thursday for Padres starter Drew Pomeranz. Espinoza appeared to be untouchable, but as it turned out, that was not the case. How far are the Cardinals willing to go to acquire a lefty reliever like, say, Andrew Miller of the New York Yankees? How about Aroldis Chapman? The Cubs are also looking for bullpen help, which will make the next two weeks before the August 1 deadline verrrry interesting.
3) Alex Reyes is the Cardinals’ best prospect, but I just don’t see the big righthander getting dealt. Reyes, actually, would be the most cost-efficient upgrade for the Cards’ pen. He possesses a rocket arm, a fastball that can touch 101 MPH. Reyes changes speeds with a wicked hook, dropping to around 76 MPH, then lights you up with another moving fastball. The problem is, Reyes doesn’t always know where it’s going — and his pitch count tends to rise. But putting him in a one-inning relief role would seem to minimize risk and give him the opportunity to get his feet wet in the big leagues. (Think Carlos Martinez in 2013, who almost helped the Cardinals win the World Series as a young setup man.)
4) The defense absolutely must improve for the Cardinals to be successful. Defense affects everything. Errors lead to more pitches from starters, which lead to early exits, which lead to taxed relievers. Gifting the opposition runs can cause your offense to press at the plate. And sometimes, players tend to carry their defensive woes with them to the batter’s box — and hitting suffers. If the Cardinals can play consistently good, crisp defense behind their groundball-inducing pitching staff, the wins will come.
5) The Cardinals might actually have a better roster than last year’s 100-win team. The rotation is solid, with Adam Wainwright back on board. The bullpen, when healthy, has a lot of talent (and is underachieving). The bench is much deeper and more powerful, for sure, than last year. And the emerging young talent of Stephen Piscotty and Aledmys Diaz at the top of the order is legitimate. If all the pieces are there, why not the Cardinals?
Here’s what Matt Carpenter (who hopes to return in a “couple more weeks” from a strained oblique) told me in San Diego this week:
“I think we’re going to see our best ball coming up in the second half,” Carpenter said. “We’re just due to do that. You look at some of the things that are going on that just don’t make a lot of sense. Our record at home. I mean, that’s going to change. We’re too good of a team. You would have to think that that’s going to start trending upward. Our starting pitching’s turned the corner. This team’s battle-tested, we’ve been through it before. We know what it takes to win. Certainly, the Cubs are a great team and they’ve got a pretty good lead, but there’s a lot of games left. Whether we catch them or not, I think we’re going to put ourselves in a good position to get into the postseason.”
Play ball, folks. See you tonight.