This wasn’t what I wanted to write about this week. I wanted to do some uplifting writing about the St. Louis Cardinals excellent performance against Pittsburgh. I’d mention how it came at a wonderful time, with the Brewers dropping five straight. I’d also mention how the Cards got as close as they’ve been to first place since late May. Then I would go on to gush over a win over the Brewers that put that team at just one game back. It sure seemed like a solid bit of good news to base an article on. But then the bomb got dropped.
What started as a rumor on Twitter that Yadier Molina would miss 8-12 weeks due to a thumb injury sustained on July 9th became a matter of fact in a little under an hour. While those approximately 45 minutes waiting on John Mozeliak seemed to last an eternity, in retrospect, I wish I was still trapped in that window of time. A window when a prolonged period of not having a platinum glove catcher playing for the Cards for three months was just a rumor and nothing more.
This is the new reality. Yadi will miss 8-12 weeks, and let’s be honest, 12 is probably on the short side of that estimate. That means no more Molina for the rest of the 2014 regular season. It also means that if the Cardinals do manage to work their way into the postseason, any hitch in the recovery means he won’t appear there either. This is truly a worst case scenario.
However, this does not mean the season is over for the birds on the bat. Yes, Yadi is the best in the game for a reason. However, to think that none of that has rubbed off on Tony Cruz is foolish. Just like a aspects of Mike Matheny’s game rubbed of on Molina, Cruz has learned on the job from the best catcher in the game. I fully expect every Cardinals loss for the next 3 months to be at least partially blamed on Tony being in the game. That’s only natural. We see the games through imperfect eyes. Even as I write this, someone on Twitter blames Tony Cruz setting up too early for giving pitch location away to the batter. Please.
The path the team has chosen to cope with this loss, at least in the short-term, is for Tony Cruz to start most games and Audry Perez to serve as the backup catcher. Neither one of those guys are going to light up the stat sites with their amazing offense. They probably aren’t going to win a Gold Glove. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be meaningful contributors to the team.
I am well aware that some in Cardinal Nation do not have faith in Tony Cruz to do the job, but consider this: Molina’s value extends well past his bat. His value is in the areas of pitcher management, pitch calling, and framing. These are virtues certainly passed around in the organization and to Cruz. Taking out last year’s outlier of a year when Cruz hit a lowly .203 with a broken arm, he’s better than a .250 hitter. Not terrible. A downgrade from Yadi? You bet. But I can think of a bunch of players Matheny and Mo refuse to part with that can’t hit that well: Mark Ellis, Daniel Descalso, Shane Robinson, and Peter Bourjos spring to mind.
None of this is to say 2014 is a loss. By no means is it a forgone conclusion that the Cards aren’t in postseason, perhaps deep in it. However, this is a three-month problem. I say let the chip fall where they may. The Cards have now claimed Royals reject George Kottaras. One can only assume this is for yet another platoon, because those work so well. Or maybe it’s for a “veteran presence”. Who knows what nonsense is racing through overreacting management-type minds, but Cruz should still get the majority of the playing time. Kottaras is .286 in 27 plat appearances this year, but is a career .216 hitter. Meh.
I’d like to light a fire under Cruz, who knows he is ordinarily not going to get playing time when Yadi’s healthy. His future as a fulltime catcher can’t be with the Cardinals in the next couple years. But this is his time to shine, let’s see what he can do.