The Cardinals start the second half of the season tomorrow, opening up play against the Reds. The Cardinals go into the second half trailing Pittsburgh by two and a half games, so the road to the playoffs isn’t as bleak as it seemed last year. With players returning from injury, possible trades, and the continued solid play of the current team, the Cardinals have a good chance of winning the division or at least snagging one of the Wild Card spots. With the game starting back up tomorrow, the Cardinals have a lot of stories that will unfold in the second half.
- How much will Lance Berkman and Jaime Garcia contribute upon return?
Berkman is set to return very soon from his knee injury. The Cardinals have gotten great play out of Allen Craig, but the team will be infinitely more productive if they have Craig, Carlos Beltran, Jon Jay, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman to cycle around. The only issue that comes up is that there are five players for four positions unless Craig sees some playing time at second or third base. Mike Matheny hasn’t had to deal with it too much due to injuries, but once he finally has all five of his horses in the stable, it will be interesting to see how they are deployed.
Jaime Garcia has started a throwing program and could be back some time in August. If he returns to his from from the last two years, it could really help the Cardinals out. A return from a healthy Garcia gives them the ability to move one of the starters into the failing bullpen to shore things up without giving up prospects in a trade. If Garcia has setbacks, though, it presents a greater challenge for John Mozeliak heading into the trade deadline.
- Speaking of the trade deadline, who will the Cardinals come away with?
Even though the Cardinals have been linked with starting pitching, I’m not sure they jump into the market for a top name starter like Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels. I don’t think the Cardinals want to give up quality prospects for a potential rental player. If the Cardinals do jump into the starting pitching market, there are quite a few intriguing names to look at. On the top end, there are the aces. Hamels, Greinke, Matt Garza, Wandy Rodriguez, and Ryan Dempster all could be made available at the deadline. Out of the five, Dempster and Rodriguez would probably demand smaller packages, but would still cost at least one top prospect. There are a couple of mid-tier pitchers available too in Shaun Marcum, Paul Maholm, Randy Wolf, Jeremy Guthrie, Edinson Volquez, Clayton Richard, Jason Vargas, Kevin Millwood, Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy, Brian Matusz, and Francisco Liriano. Maholm, Guthrie, Wolf, and Millwood are names that have interested the Cardinals in the past. They could be had for probably the smallest packages. I think the best option, if the Cardinals opted to bring in a starter, would be Jason Vargas. He has the stuff to be a solid number two or three and wouldn’t command a huge prospect package. Any deal for a starter would allow the team to move either Joe Kelly, who is still getting quality starts but is walking more and more, or Lance Lynn, who Mozeliak has mentioned needs to have his innings monitored, into a struggling bullpen.
The other option is just to look at bullpen guys. Realistically, only Jason Motte, Fernando Salas, and Mitchell Boggs should feel safe with their jobs. Barrett Browning will have a position with the team until he gives up his first earned run, but the remainder of the Cardinals bullpen is very expendable this season. One name that was already drawing interest is Brian Fuentes. Fuentes was released by the Athletics, so now the Cardinals can take a chance on him for just around $200,000 instead of his huge salary and a prospect or two. There are also other trade candidates available, such as Jonathan Broxton, Brandon League, J.C. Oviedo, Francisco Rodriguez, Huston Street, Mike Adams, Grant Balfour, Randy Choate, Darren Oliver, and Hong-Chih Kuo. The Cardinals have a multitude of options if they want to turn over their bullpen for a playoff run.
- Can the team stay healthy?
The team has already had its share of setbacks in the form of injuries, but other injury prone players like Beltran, Freese, and Furcal have stayed relatively healthy. An injury to any of those three takes another of the Cardinals top bats out of the lineup and makes it hard for the Cardinals to stay on track. If Berkman and Garcia return and the team stays healthy down the stretch, there is nothing keeping them out of the playoffs.
- Which Junior Redbirds are in line to see playing time in September?
September is always a time to get excited as the Cardinals of the future get some time in the spotlight to show what they are made of. Unfortunately, top prospects like Kolten Wong, Oscar Taveras, Shelby Miller, and Carlos Martinez probably won’t see time unless moves are made to get them onto the 40-man roster. The Cardinals could, however, have some at bats for Steven Hill and Matt Adams, who have both been up already, Mark Hamilton, Zack Cox, Pete Kozma, and Adron Chambers. All of these players except for maybe Hamilton play heavily into the Cardinals future plans, as Adams and Cox are position starters of the future and the others are viable bench options. Hamilton may end up being thrown into a deal if the Cardinals enter the trade market. On the pitching side, Brandon Dickson, Chuckie Fick, Adam Reifer, Eduardo Sanchez, Sam Freeman, and John Gaub could earn some innings in late season games. Reifer and Gaub are the only two who haven’t seen time with the big club yet.
The Cardinals fans have a great second half to look forward to. Beltran, Holliday, Furcal, Craig, and Molina are all trying to push their names into the MVP race, while Kyle Lohse is making a run at the Cy Young. Matt Carpenter and Lance Lynn are challenging for the Rookie of the Year and if the Cardinals make the playoffs, Mike Matheny may be a lock for Manager of the Year. The team is within striking distance of taking another division crown, heading into the playoffs, and making a run at #12in12. The second half could produce some very exciting baseball for Cardinals fans.