Jul 9, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong (16) is congratulated by manager Mike Matheny (22) after hitting a solo home run during the seventh inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. Cardinals defeated the Pirates 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
The St. Louis Cardinals start out of the second half of the 2014 MLB season boasting a 52-44 record, just one game behind the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the National League Central.
It was an up and down first half for the Cards, but without a doubt, St. Louis finished strong.
Heading into July, the Cardinals were down 6.5 games on the Brewers, and the offense was sputtering–especially during the back half of a West Coast road swing that saw the Cards go 5-5. In fact, there was a stretch that saw the Cardinals go 24 straight innings without scoring a run.
Getting back home didn’t seem to help much, as the Cardinals lost a series to the Miami Marlins but things started to pick up, and in a hurry, against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
St. Louis won three games in a row against Pittsburgh, and that included two walk-off home run wins. Matt Adams continued his great play with a blast into right field to secure the Cards a win, and the very next night, rookie second baseman Kolten Wong did the same.
The Pirates got a win in the fourth game to avoid the clean sweep, but then it was up to Milwaukee to face the first place Brewers, who were on a losing streak of their own. The Cards took the series from Milwaukee 2-1, the NL lost to the AL 5-3 in the 2014 MLB All-Star Game; and here we are: Looking forward to the second half of the season.
With all of that in mind, here are the three biggest questions facing the St. Louis Cardinals heading into the second half.
How will the club fare without Yadi?
Jul 7, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (4) walks off the field as rain falls during the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
I was certainly wrong about the status of Yadier Molina. When I first saw his injury, I figured he’d be out for a few games, more as a precaution before the break than anything. Turns out the awkward slide into third that jammed his right thumb actually tore a ligament, requiring surgery. The timetable for Yadi’s return was set at 8-to-12 weeks, so we won’t be seeing the Cardinals’ all-star catcher behind the plate for a while.
How is this going to impact the team? Yes, Molina is an offensive threat and a clutch hitter (87 H, 30 RBI, .287 AVG before the injury this season), but the biggest problem the Cards may face is with the pitchers. Molina is obviously as talented as they come behind the plate, and he’s more than likely developed a confidence and rhythm with all of the Cardinals’ pitchers.
How will the Cardinals’ pitching staff fare long-term (well, at least until Molina gets back) with Tony Cruz behind the plate? This is not just a spot start anymore, or even a few day relief gig. Cruz has to go through the grind of being every-game starting catcher for at least seven more weeks, which is much, much different than what he’s used to.
For what it’s worth, manager Mike Matheny is confident, according to Jenifer Langosch and Alex Halsted of MLB.com:
"“Tony has done a great job,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We feel when he gets out there he gives us a chance to win. I think that’s exactly what anybody out here would hope for. We’ve got faith in him, we’ve got trust in him, and now he just has to go out and continue to do what he’s been doing.”"
We’ll see how Cruz can transition from backup to full-time starter. It will certainly be one of the more interesting story-lines surrounding this team in the second half.
Are the bats heating up?
Jun 27, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams (32) singles in the first inning of the game Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
It seemed like St. Louis was trying to find an offensive rhythm in the last week or two before the All-Star break. Of course, the Cards weren’t perfect–losing 9-1 to the Pirates on July 10th and 11-2 to the Brewers on the 13th–but there were also games that saw St. Louis display a ton of offensive firepower.
For instance, they beat the Brewers 7-6 on the 11th, and four Cardinals players hit home runs. A day later, St. Louis tied the Brewers for first in the Central by beating them 10-2. That game saw red-hot Kolten Wong hit his sixth home-run of the season. If there’s one thing that should have Cardinals’ fans excited for the second half, it should be the bat of Wong; who is really stepping up and proving that he can be the everyday second baseman and a young star for the club.
Matt Adams is a home run threat every time he steps to the plate, Jhonny Peralta is starting to find his groove, Wong is growing more confident with every game played and Matt Carpenter is always a threat.
There’s reason to believe the St. Louis offense will wake up in a big way during the second half of the season.
Will the team make any moves at the deadline?
Feb 13, 2014; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak (left) talks with manager Mike Matheny (right) during spring training at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
With Michael Wacha a huge question mark to return and Jaime Garcia out for the season, will the Cardinals look to make a trade before the deadline to bring in another arm for the starting rotation?
Joe Kelly is back, but his ERA skyrocketed to 3.44 after giving up seven hits and six earned runs in just three inning against Milwaukee in his first game back from injury. Shelby Miller has a 4.29 ERA, and Carlos Martinez is young, inexperienced and inconsistent.
Could the Cardinals go out and trade for an arm to put behind Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn in the rotation? I think it’s very possible, but keep in mind, a lot of that will depend on the health of Wacha.
The Cards could also decide to go trade for another bat, but I don’t see any blockbuster trades coming in that regard.
Who knows, though, because it’s always possible. St. Louis does have an abundance of depth in the outfield, which means the Cards do have some chips to work with on the trading block.
Either way, it’s going to be an interesting second half for Cardinals’ Nation.
Michael Edwards is the Co-Editor of Redbird Rants. Follow him on Twitter: @CardinalsWriter