St. Louis Cardinals could be headed to fourth place in NL Central

With injuries starting to inflict the pitching staff and a relatively tough upcoming schedule, the St. Louis Cardinals could quickly find themselves ahead of only the lowly Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs in the National League’s Central Division.

A promising season that has fallen apart in the last six weeks got even worse for the St. Louis Cardinals when starting pitcher Jaime Garcia went down with a shoulder injury after Tuesday’s start at Houston.

The Cardinals will bring up Joe Kelly from Triple-A to pitch Sunday in place of Garcia. Kelly better do well, because the Cardinals are likely going to need his services long term.

Garcia is probably going to be on the shelf for at least two months, but shoulder injuries are the worst type of injury a pitcher can have. Doctors can routinely perform Tommy John surgery to repair an elbow, but the shoulder has a lot more moving parts and is a more complicated fix. Thankfully, Garcia does not yet require surgery, so there is at least hope that his season isn’t over.

Baseball is a great game for many reasons, including its sly way of maintaining control. I’m not talking about Major League Baseball, just baseball: That invisible essence that is bigger than the people who are a part of it each generation.

Despite players who think they are bigger than the game, umpires who rarely back down from a blown call or commissioners who feel the need to change the rules of some aspect of the game each year, baseball still has a way of keeping things from getting out of hand.

It will knock a team or player off of the mountaintop quickly if they are not careful. The Cardinals were on the mountaintop after their incredible run late in the 2011 season and through the playoffs to win the World Series. They also came out of the gate in 2012 with the look of another dominant team despite losing their manager and greatest slugger.

Then the injuries happened.

You know the story. Chris Carpenter did his best Adam Wainwright imitation and fell victim to a freak injury at the beginning of Spring Training. He will miss most of the year, if not all of it. Next, almost every position player took a turn on the disabled list early in the season. Lance Berkman, Skip Schumaker, Matt Carpenter and Jon Jay remain on that dreaded list.

Now the Cardinals are struggling to merely tread water as the summer approaches and the standings start to sort themselves out. The Cincinnati Reds blew by the Cardinals in May and the Pittsburgh Pirates (yes, the 20-years-without-a-winning-season Pirates) surpassed the Cardinals at the beginning of June.

Now the Milwaukee Brewers have won seven of their last 10 heading into play Saturday, are just 1.5 games behind the Cardinals and could overtake them by the end of the month.

That’s another cool thing about baseball, although Cardinals fans might not want to hear it right now. Eventually, bad baseball teams become good baseball teams. Remember the glory days of the early 2000s when the Cardinals, Astros and Cubs battled for the division crown each year? The Reds, Pirates and Brewers were the leftovers that the three contenders feasted on each year. Now the standings are almost completely flip-flopped.

Anyway, despite the injuries to position players, the Cardinals had survived because the starting rotation had remained healthy. That’s no longer the case, and the Cardinals could be headed into their worst stretch of the season.

Hopefully that’s the case. If it gets worse than this the entire season might be a loss.

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