While success has been the constant for the 2015 St. Louis Cardinals, so has been the ever-present element of doing it in spite of a crucial injury. Looking at the team’s Opening Day roster in comparison to the everyday lineup it trots out currently, rational thought would say there should be no way that this team has baseball’s best record and a six game lead in their division in late August. However, that is the case, but it begs the question: have the Cardinals managed to be lucky in loss?
That is because the St. Louis Cardinals have been ravaged by injury at an extraordinary pace for any team that is in still in the pennant race, and honestly at a pace that is remarkable for any team. Since the beginning of the season, they have watched their ace in Adam Wainwright go out of the season, lost middle of the lineup impact bats in both Matt Holliday and Matt Adams for multiple months, have lost center fielder Jon Jay multiple times, key relievers Jordan Walden and Matt Belisle have continued to battle injury, while starter Jaime Garcia has had two injuries to battle as well.
That is a haul of damages that could have torpedoed the Cardinal campaign, and reasonably so. But they have rallied behind the unfailingly strong effort of its pitching staff and a steady (if often unimaginative) effort of its everyday lineup.
This has been possible by the impressive depth of the organization at both the Major League and upper minor league levels, as well as an uncanny ability for the “next man up” to deliver when given the opportunity. The highlight case of this has been Randal Grichuk, who stepped up mightily during Jay’s first prolonged absence and continued to do so in place of Holliday during his initial quadriceps injury. Over the past month, Grichuk had forced himself into the National League Rookie of the Year picture even, swinging to the tone of a .296 average, eight home runs and a .618 slugging percentage since coming out of tthe All-Star Break. However, he too joined the ranks of fallen Cardinal contributors on Monday, as an elbow strain sent him the disabled list, where he became the seventh Cardinal to currently inhabit the club’s inactive list.
Add to the fact that outfielder Jason Heyward was also removed from Monday night’s contest after experiencing an issue with his hamstring, and remained out of the lineup on Tuesday night, begging the question to be legitimately asked: how many injuries can the Cardinal roster endure? If Heyward is forced to miss any prolonged amount of time, that puts the entire Opening Day outfield out of action at once, as well as Adams and Wainwright, a group that compromised five out of the nine starters that first took to Busch Stadium in April.
However, potentially even injury to Heyward is not the complete backbreaker for the Cardinal offering. The emergence of Stephen Piscotty has add crucial depth to the outfield, while the acquisition of Brandon Moss provides another corner outfield option to surround the duo of Tommy Pham and Peter Bourjos that will man the middle. There is still the ever-present “next man up” available to contribute and keep the Cardinal lineup afloat.
Yet, there are a few places where the Cardinals have thankfully not been forced to test their depth yet, because the situation to do so could be disastrous. Despite a few non-lengthy occurrences, Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta and Kolten Wong have been very dependable for the team. Also, Yadier Molina has been staunchly dependable, leading NL catchers in innings played just a year removed from knee surgery.
But despite his obvious irreplaceability in regards to impact, the team has shown itself to be able to at least tread water at catcher in his absence. However if one of the aforementioned trio of Cardinal infielders were to go down, the results could be disastrous, as the Cardinals have virtually no capable replacement to step up at any of the positions. Between a thin-to-questionable MLB bench group and no locks to produce sitting on the verge in Memphis, if the fates were to move any further into the Cardinal infield, the team would be forced to reach for an outcome that may be non-existent.
The third base situation behind Carpenter could prove to be specifically bleak. Considering the fact that he is the everyday leadoff hitter and entrenched every day starter at the hot corner, the two-time All-Star’s value is clear even when he is having the type of up and down campaign he has this summer.
However, when the scene beyond him at the position is evaluated, the loss of Carpenter long-term would be catastrophic. It would come down to decision between Mark Reynolds and Pete Kozma on the current MLB roster, neither of which paints a desirable option in a prolonged situation.
The upper minor leagues offers little in the way of relief either. The position has been in constant flux at Memphis this year, with a .231-hitting Jacob Wilson currently inhabiting the role. Beyond him, there is journeyman Dean Anna whom is capable of playing the position, as is Greg Garcia. However, Garcia would be best cast in a middle infield, supporting role.
Such a situation could potentially prod the hunger to fast track Double-A Springfield third baseman Patrick Wisdom — who has been awarded the organization’s Minor League Player of the Month honor earlier in the season – but it is not a likely, nor favorable, scenario.
Up the middle is a simple situation, where it is essentially Pete Kozma or bust at both positions. Sure, Garcia could add some depth behind either Peralta or Wong, but the immediate plug in would be Kozma, who’s defensive prowess has kept him afloat of a season where he is yet to connect for an extra base hit entering into the season’s final month, and is the owner of a .160 average and a .236 on-base percentage. Both marks are so far below MLB standard that it begs the question if even his glove reinforces his presence enough for the support role he currently has, let alone an increase in exposure.
All things considered, the hope is that the roster is on the mend and receive back more than they lose over the next month. And while their record will carry them into the postseason, any further injuries –especially at these critically shallow positions— and the Teflon 2015 Cardinals may not be able to stand up to being under fire for much longer.