162 games is a long season. Baseball lacks the brutality of football and the physical intensity of basketball, but the demands of playing the game, and playing it well, for six full months are exacting. One of the great things about the makeup of this club is that it is quite capable of absorbing injuries, even to its stars, without losing an entire season. Here is a quick rundown of the depth of this team and the one spot that it is most vulnerable.
The Pitching Staff
The Memphis shuttle ran early and often last year. The depth available to this team with young arms was absolutely stunning. This team has proven that it can survive injuries to its staff. Having said that, if 2014 contains the same number and severity of injuries as 2013 it is hard to feature any team being able to stay afloat as well as last year’s. Even an injury to Adam Wainwright would be survivable in the short term.
Last season saw trips to the disabled list for Matt Holliday and Allen Craig. The great thing about how this team is set up in the field is that there is enough redundancy to keep this offense humming along, even with a dramatic injury. Craig can hold down right field while providing insurance for left field and first base. Jon Jay can provide insurance for Craig and Holliday if Peter Bourjos starts in center. And hot prospect Oscar Taveras is lurking in the conversation ready to bring his skills to St. Louis whenever called upon. Mark Ellis provides depth and insurance of Kolten Wong at second, and if Matt Carpenter or Jhonny Peralta go down a player such as Daniel Descalso would be a drop off, but the team could survive. The team won 97 games with inadequate offense from third in short in 2013, and they could do it again if necessary. No, the bench is not littered with all-stars, but it is now populated by players who can perform at a reasonable level if necessary.
The Glaring Vulnerability
I almost feel bad calling this a vulnerability because one one hand it is the team’s greatest strength. Sometimes vulnerability is not about the quality of depth in the wings, but the extraordinary quality of the everyday player. Catcher is, in my opinion, the only position on this team to which a serious injury could do major damage for the season as a whole. Despite his light-hitting last year, I really do not think that Tony Cruz is a bad player, but the gap between Yadier Molina and Cruz is cavernous. Molina makes such a positive impact on the pitching staff, on the opposing team’s ability to steal bases, and through his offense that losing him for a long stretch is the one thing that should keep Mike Matheny, John Mozeliak, and the rest of the Cardinal front office up at night. Last year after Molina missed sixteen of eighteen games we heard a lot about how he was going to get more days off, and the team even carried a third catcher on the roster for much of the year. But Molina has never gotten the time off that his talent and aging knees should dictate.
Let’s hope this year the team gets serious about protecting its most important asset.