The Jordan Hicks injury is unquestionably one that will make things more difficult for the St. Louis Cardinals, but at the end of the day, injuries just mean the next guy up has to step up.
Throwing 99+ mph isn’t a prerequisite to being a closer. All you need from a player to be a closer is toughness and the ability to get outs. Unfortunately, the question now becomes “Do the St. Louis Cardinals have any players like that?”
In theory, they definitely do. Despite the difficulties that the team has had, the talent is still there. Remember, this team was touted as a possible contender, and struggling the way they have isn’t reflective of the talent they have.
Granted, the effect of losing a player as important as Jordan Hicks cascades through the roster, so whether it be on offense or as a pitcher, everyone needs to step up. The St. Louis Cardinals need to figure things out soon, or they just won’t have the time to make this more than a lost season.
Of course, there are some players who are going to be called upon for much more now that Hicks is gone. Here are the 5 that I feel need to step up the most.
I get that starting on the completely opposite side of the ball seems odd, but the St. Louis Cardinals have needed Matt Carpenter to elevate his game even before the Hicks injury.
Without a key late game piece, securing comfortable leads in games becomes even more important, and it all starts with the leadoff man
Granted, he could be moved out of the one spot, but he still holds the best walk rate on the team and is around a similar K rate to the other two potential leadoff men: Dexter Fowler and Harrison Bader
Based on what has happened in the past with moving Marp out of the leadoff spot, I figure the St. Louis Cardinals will really want to keep him there if there is any sign or chance that he could return to form. After all, he started last year poorly too, right?
In any case, Matt Carpenter is one of the key cogs on this team, and his improvement will be crucial to the Cardinals now that a key run limiting piece is gone.
Additionally, there’s money to consider with Carpenter, seeing as he just signed a multi-year extension. There is only so much longer this can go before we start comparing Matt Carpenter to Dexter Fowler.
4. Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty
Call me a cheater for naming multiple players here, but the same thing applies to both of these guys. As the top two members of the rotation, Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas need to be better for the St. Louis Cardinals to be successful this year.
This rings especially true with Mikolas after his extension. With the offense still underperforming and a bullpen arm lost, the pressure falls onto the starters to make manufacturing a comfortable lead plausible for the St. Louis Cardinals offense.
Mikolas and Flaherty are not only the ones who came into the season with the greatest expectation, they are also the ones who have been underperforming the most.
Even if Hicks didn’t get hurt, the fact would still stand that these guys need to step up if the St. Louis Cardinals want to turn this season around.
3. John Gant
Of course John Gant hasn’t played poorly; this is less about his play so far and more about what is to come for Gant.
While many St. Louis Cardinals fans may not expect it, I do believe Gant will end up with the closer role.
I do get why people have their doubts, especially after his blowup against the Angels, but the Cardinals have already expressed their faith in Gant as one of the team’s best bullpen options, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Gant and his 2.40 ERA is moved to the closer’s role.
So the question becomes whether or not Gant is ready to handle that role. Gant’s work in high leverage this season situations bodes well for the 26 year old righty, who is unquestionably the most reliable piece in the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen today.
2. John Brebbia
This was a really bad time for Jordan Hicks to get hurt, but you could argue this is an even worse time for John Brebbia to crater.
Stellar over the first 60 games of the season, Brebbia’s ERA has ballooned in recent weeks as his control has left him.
With Jordan Hicks no longer in the picture, it is more important than ever that John Brebbia returns to the early season form that had him as part of a three headed monster with Hicks and Gant. A team needs more than one or two guys they can rely on, and John Brebbia could be that X-Factor out of the bullpen once again.
If he continues to struggle, it would be a very unfortunate loss for a bullpen that doesn’t seem like it can afford much more struggles, especially if the next and final guy on this list doesn’t step up.
Was there really any other candidate for number one here? If Andrew Miller was even a semblance of what the St. Louis Cardinals expected, the choice of closer wouldn’t even be a question.As of now, it’s pretty hard to trust Miller as the closer when he sports a poor ERA in less difficult situations this year.
Miller was brought in to be the premier reliever in the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen, but he just hasn’t been able to piece it together this year.
If Miller was playing at the level he is supposed to be, Hicks injury wouldn’t be nearly as debilitating to the bullpen as it is. Without Miller as that go-to guy, suddenly the treat of the Cardinals bullpen isn’t really there.
But should Miller return to form, he could be the key piece that keeps the team together late in the season. Having that impact guy in the ‘pen will relieve pressure everywhere else, which is sorely needed seeing as the St. Louis Cardinals look like they are about to burst.
Losing Jordan Hicks is tough, but it doesn’t have to be crippling. If the next man up can rise to the occasion, there will be plenty of hope for the St. Louis Cardinals come Fall.