To be fair, I’m partially writing this post to buoy myself up a little bit. John Mozeliak has just announced that Yadier Molina will miss 8-12 weeks as he has surgery to replace torn ligaments in his thumb. It’s almost a shame Yadi is as much of a heads-up player as he is–most players wouldn’t have tried to go from second to third on that Allen Craig ground ball last night. Yadi did–and sadly, now the team pays the price.
However, though Matt Sebek most likely has that Fredbird-about-to-leap-from-a-bridge graphic all cued up, this really isn’t the end of the season for the Cards. Yes, Yadier Molina is a huge part of this team. Yes, they are much better when he is in the lineup. There’s no reason to start looking forward to spring training 2015 just yet, however.
Tony Cruz, while not to Yadier Molina’s standards, is still a quality catcher. Everything he does defensively was taught to him by Yadi and he’s worked with a number of these pitchers on their way up the minor league ladder. Remember when it looked like Cruz was going to be the Lance Lynn whisperer? The Cardinals have a high bar to clear defensively with Molina out, but Cruz can make that gap much smaller than many expect.
As for offense? It’s hard to know. Cruz has looked good with the bat in small doses, though it’s hard to know whether he will get exposed as more teams start game planning for him. He hit .225/.262/.350 last year when Molina went on the DL, but remember he replaced Molina on that list when Yadi was activated. The first six games, he hit .333/.391/.524. I don’t think anyone expects Cruz to hit .300 or so while Yadi is out, but even if he can hit .260, he can be a productive member of the lineup.
Remember, we haven’t exactly seen peak Yadi this year either. While he has been a bit better lately, his .751 OPS is the lowest mark he’s had since 2010. It’s more than Cruz will give the team, sure, but it’s not like you are losing 300 points between the two of them. If Mozeliak brings in another bat or the offense continues to click as it has the last couple of days, Cruz’s bat will be perfectly acceptable.
We’ve seen the Cardinals battle through injury and adversity time and time again. All you have to say is Chris Carpenter to know how accurate that is. And while there’s not the slew of catchers behind Molina like there were arms to replace Carpenter, this team has come together in the past and can do so again.
We’ve said that St. Louis needed something to shake them up, to get them more focused. While we expected that to be a big trade, showing no one was safe, perhaps this will serve the same purpose. Losing Yadi may get the rest of the team rededicated to making sure they are still playing meaningful baseball when he’s ready to return. It sounds like something out of a sports movie, of course, and perhaps it is, but there’s a kernel of truth there as well.
Also, there’s nothing affecting Molina’s mind. I would expect he’ll still be at the park most every day, going over the hitters with the pitchers, instructing Cruz and Aubry Perez on how to be better catchers. It’s not the same as having him on the field, not at all, but that’s not a negligible point. Baseball is so much of a mental game that having Yadi still there sharing his knowledge and insights is a huge point in the Cardinals’ favor.
Is this stretch going to be tough? Sure. Could it be the difference between October dates at Busch and October tee times at various country clubs? Maybe. However, I’m resolved to believe the club can come through this and continue its run of postseason appearances.
Will you join me?