The Brewers and Cardinals currently hold the best two records in the National League Central. With the All Star break coming up, Milwaukee is hosting St. Louis one more time before we kick off the unofficial second half. Aaron Finkel of Viva El Birdos was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the Cardinals as the divisional race begins to heat up. Thanks again to Aaron for taking the time to do these! You can see my answers to his questions over at VEB.
1. Michael Wacha still hasn't been cleared to throw yet -- has there been any news on when he might return to the rotation? How has Carlos Martinez looked in his first prolonged stint in the rotation?
Michael Wacha was diagnosed with a stress reaction (a pre-cursor to a stress fracture) in his scapula. They were encouraged at the healing that had occurred after two weeks, but he'll remain shut down for around two more before they look at it again. I expect the team to be highly conservative with Wacha. Brandon McCarthy has dealt with this injury in a chronic way throughout his career, and while it's possible that Wacha will need to as well, the Cardinals would like to avoid that. I imagine the earliest he could pitch again in the majors would be mid-August, but it's something of a guess at this point.
Carlos Martinez looks fantastic. I think he's the third best starter on the Cardinals right now, and he could move up that list. His stuff is amazing, and his command and pitch sequencing have improved each start. His ERA, FIP, and xFIP are in the mid-3's as a starter so far, and I think they'll improve as he continues to adjust to his new role. Expect lots of groundballs, a few filthy K's, and if you're lucky, some wildness and hanging sliders.
2. There has been some fairly strong debate over who should have been elected to start at catcher for the National League in this year's All Star game as Jonathan Lucroy and Yadier Molina were both candidates. Did most Cardinals fans believe Molina deserved it more? How do you feel about it?
I'll answer the second question first. Lucroy clearly had a better first half and therefore deserved it more. Period. I really don't know about "most" Cardinals fans. I've spoken to many who think Yadi's a better defender (probably assume this is the case without having much to back it up) and use that to argue that Yadi is better. This overlooks Lucroy's extraordinary pitch-framing and his own good defense, of course. I've spoken to some who pull out things from Yadi's career to argue for him, which is irrelevant in this particular contest, and I've spoken to many who think Lucroy had the better half and should have won.
3. There have been some murmurings that the Cardinals could get involved in the David Price sweepstakes. Do you think that would be a smart move for the team? It seems St. Louis has a number of good starters, particularly when Wacha and Joe Kelly come back. Who ends up sticking in the rotation alongside Price were the Cardinals to actually trade for him?
I don't think it would be a smart move. Price would be a marvelous addition to the team, and Wainwright, Price, Lynn, Wacha, Martinez (which is how I'd line it up when Wacha returned. I'd put Kelly in over Miller right now until then), would be intimidating, but I expect the Rays to receive quite a package for Price, and I think the Cardinals should not give up what it would cost. They stand a good chance at making the playoffs anyhow, but I'd rather miss the playoff this year than give up someone like Oscar Taveras or Carlos Martinez, who would be the two players most likely to headline a deal for Price, plus deal from some of the other good chips in the system. The last three years should allow for patience, not unreasonable expectations. Respect the process.
4. Are there any other rumors floating around about the Cardinals as the deadline approaches? Anyone you would like to see the team go after?
Sure. I'll address the news that broke recently first. With Yadier Molina out with an injured thumb for 8-12 weeks, a catcher would be a possible trade target. I don't think they'll look for anything special, but a player like Kurt Suzuki or the recently DFA'd John Buck wouldn't surprise me.
The team needs hitters, but at the same time, it's tough to know just where they'd do that, especially if Kolten Wong can continue with the recent improvement he's exhibited. Allen Craig is now a bench bat, Matt Holliday is going nowhere, and the situation is solid everywhere else. A player like Ben Zobrist or Martin Prado isn't out of the question, I suppose.
Despite the excellent season Cardinals starters have had, the rotation might be more likely to get an upgrade than the lineup. I think Shelby Miller is broken and needs to head back to the minors to find his mechanics and curveball consistency. Joe Kelly is a great guy and a fair pitcher, but there are arms out there who would be an improvement. I would really like to see the Cardinals try to buy low on the rehabbing Cliff Lee. If the Phillies want a team to pay full price for him as if the elbow injury never happened, I'd hang up the phone, but if a moderate package of a secondary OF and pitching prospect would get him plus some of his salary covered, I'd be very interested. The Cardinals' prospect depth would allow them to risk sending off a little of it with the possibility of no useful return, but also the possibility of someone providing similar value to David Price at a fraction of the trade cost.
5. How confident are you that the Cardinals will pass the Brewers and win the division with a strong second half? What would be the key factor in them pulling that off? What's the biggest thing that may prevent that outcome?
Hmm. Before Yadi's injury I would have picked the Cardinals, but if I had to handicap the division now, I'd probably go Brewers, Cardinals, Reds, Pirates, though nothing would surprise me. For the Cardinals to win, I would look for Carlos Martinez to continue his development, Michael Wacha to pitch meaningful innings, Oscar Taveras to hit, and Matt Holliday to find his power. I'm actually bullish on each of these things happening, but it's hard to count on all of them.
I think Matt Holliday is the real key. If he shows up in the second half, the entire Cardinals offense will click, even without Yadi. If he doesn't, they simply won't have enough offense to take down the division.
Like last time, I'll do my best to check in on this thread this afternoon. If anyone has any questions for me, fire away!