As the St. Louis roster rounded into form early this spring, General Manager John Mozeliak used a word to describe his 2015 Cardinals squad:
It haunted me then, and continues to haunt me now.
Staff ace? Gone for the year. Recently acquired setup man? Out with an unpredictable arm injury. Both the 3 and 4 hitters? See ya. And that’s not even all of it.
Need a visual? It isn’t pretty, but here it is.
Now, I know Lance Lynn is merely getting additional evaluation and isn’t even officially going to miss a start. But “forearm tightness” doesn’t generally end with sunshine and rainbows. So, even if he ends up pitching the rest of the season, it’s just one more reminder that this team seems to be on a constant tipping point, teetering between prosperity and poverty.
And yet, the Cardinals remain the best team in baseball.
Marco Gonzales hasn’t been rushed, because the Major League rotation has been solid. The loss of Adam Wainwright was more or less absorbed by a surprisingly dominant Jaime Garcia (who is fragile enough in his own right). While Jordan Walden makes slow progress toward a return, Kevin Siegrist and Matt Belisle have held down the 8th inning fort. While Jon Jay was down for the count, Randal Grichuk and Peter Bourjos proved their worth. Though Matt Adams was undoubtedly struggling to get going this season, there were questions about Mark Reynolds as a suitable every day replacement. So far, so good.
Former Cardinal Rick Ankiel called it “fairy dust.” I’ll call it whatever you’d like if the Birds can keep winning in spite of the unpleasant game of musical injuries.
Although Mozeliak’s “next man up” philosophy has worked to near perfection thus far, losing Matt Holliday for even just four weeks seemed to be the kind of straw that could break the camel’s back (or the birds’ wings, as it were…). And then, the Lynn news broke.
So, what’s a team to do when they’ve been the best, but their best are dropping like flies? What does it mean when these Birds take 3 of 4 on the road in LA, only to drop 2 of 3 to the Rockies? It’s not going to get easier, that’s for sure, as they head toward a week of games against two teams surpassing even their own expectations this season in the Royals and the Twins.
How long can a pitching staff that has been one of baseball’s best bear the weight of a struggling offense? How much will additional exposure hurt the success of players like Grichuk and Reynolds? Does Memphis have enough resources to buy Mozeliak either time or a solution?
The way I see it, the Cards can either fold or fight… And I think you and I both know what choice they’ll make. The beauty and the bane of a 162-game season is that nothing is ever guaranteed. Rarely does anything go according to plan. Somehow, though, I expect the Cardinals to find a way. It may not be pretty. It may not be simple. And hey, it may not work at all. But with 100+ games still to go, there are plenty of surprises — hopefully some of the pleasant variety! — yet to come.
Hang in there, Cardinal Nation.
Get well Cardinals.
Follow Tara on Twitter: @TaraWellman