After a four-day layoff thanks to the All-Star Game, the Cardinals were in a position to send any of their starters except ace Adam Wainwright, who started the last game of the first half, to the hill Friday.
The best they could do: Jake Westbrook.
If that fact doesn't prove the Redbirds could use some front end of the rotation help, I don't know what would. I can't imagine Wesbrook, who seems to shrink from big games and follow surprisingly good starts with a string of several soberingly bad ones, starting the second game of a playoff series for the Cardinals.
Despite a deceptively low earned run average, Westbrook has given up four runs or more in four of his last seven starts. He's a picture of inconsistency with a pair of games in that stretch in which he's pitched seven innings and allowed one run each outing and a total of 5 hits between the two starts -- and another pair of starts in that stretch in which he gave up 18 hits and nine earned runs in a combined nine innings.
Westbrook, it has been said many times and in many forums, is a back end starter. He is now and he always has been. But on a team full of young pitchers, the Cardinals lack for experience quality pitching to go with the future potential they have stockpiled. The trick is getting help now without selling off a bright future.
Here's a quick look at potential available starters as we near the July 31 trade deadline:
- Cliff Lee of the Phillies is probably the most talked about starter who might be available. But, despite a disappointing season, Philadelphia has insisted he won't be traded. While there is always the possibility that general manager talk at this time of year could be a smokescreen, the Phillies might be close enough to a return to competitiveness to hang on to their best pitcher.
- Matt Garza of the Cubs is pegged as a likely trade deadline mover. And, despite the fact that the Cardinals play in the same division as Chicago, the two teams keep coming up in trade rumors. But I would be shocked, unless the market for Garza falls apart and Chicago becomes desperate to sell him at a cheaper price, if the Redbirds would be willing to hand over top prospects to the Cubs for a short-term rental. It seems more likely that Garza will end up back in the American League where he formerly toiled for Tampa Bay.
- Speaking of the Rays, David Price has missed more than a month of this season with a triceps problem. So his stats don't impress. But he's healthy now and back in Cy Young Award form. Tampa, during Price's layoff, learned it can live without the club ace. What that club needs is more offense. And the Cardinals could provide it in trade by sending slugging first baseman Matt Adams to Florida. Adams would be a very affordable power source for the Rays for years to come while Price may be the best pitcher available. The problem is that Tampa Bay has crawled into contention over the last six weeks. So that club might be reluctant to part with a great pitcher when it's chances to compete, as a small market club, have proved to be rare.
- Jake Peavy has the potential to be a dominant pitcher. But over the last few years he ahs had trouble staying off the disabled list. He's currently struggling with a rib injury. But Peavy could be a much cheaper option for potential trade partners because of the risk he brings. I wonder if the White Sox would package him with shortstop Alexei Ramirez or outfielder Alex Rios in attempt to move him.
- The Toronto Blue Jays were a handy trading partner for the Cardinals in 2011. Could the Redbirds' path to the World Series lead through Toronto again in 2013? The Blue Jays have a pair of starting pitchers that could be available -- Josh Johnson and former St. Charles resident Mark Buehrle. But both of them are having pretty bad years. Johnson is 1-5 with a 5.16 ERA. He's managed only 66 1/3 innings of work in which he's given up 76 hits. Buehrle, who has often been linked to the Cardinals over his career, is 5-6 with a 4.89 ERA in 116 innings of work. He's given up 129 hits -- including 16 homer runs -- so far this season. Buehrle, 34, might like to finish his career with his favorite team when he was growing up. But the contract he signed before the 2012 season with the Marlins is ridiculously expensive. It's backloaded to pay Buehrle $18 million in 2014 and $19 million in 2014. I can't imagine the Blue Jays eating enough money to make that long-awaited transaction realistic.