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St. Louis Cardinals sink in standings, blogger ponders future

The St. Louis Cardinals have no shortage of roster question marks.

But one player who should be guaranteed a spot for the rest of the season is fleet-footed outfielder Magneuris Sierra.

Sierra was one of the few bright spots on the field Sunday for St. Louis as the Redbirds dropped two of three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He collected four hits in four at-bats, stole a base — standing up. Unfortunately, the Cardinals hitters could only drive Sierra home one time as they blew a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth to lose 4-3.

It’s not that Sierra tore the cover off the ball. One of his hits was a chopper that bounced over the pitcher’s head and he was able to motor down to first base before the ball came down. Another was a dribbler between the pitcher and first base. When the hurler couldn’t make the play, the second baseman tried to scoop the ball with his glove and fling it toward first base in one motion. It didn’t work.

The thing about Sierra is that he hustles on every play and is always looking for an opportunity to do something extra. Too few of the more established Cardinals players seem to be that interested in playing the game these day.

That wasn’t the way things were supposed to work when the Birds declared over the winter that they were going to be more athletic in 2017. Dexter Fowler, who had a decent day with two hits and made a pretty nice catch during which he had to range into left centerfield, was supposed to be the spark plug that gave all the other players some extra life. But Fowler has had trouble staying in the lineup and, thanks to a heel spur issue, when he does play he seems a step or two slower than usual.

The lack of life has hurt no one on the team more than starting pitcher Carlos Martinez who had a pretty decent start only to be left out of the decision — again.

Martinez scattered five hits over seven innings to allow a pair of runs. He walked one and struck out five — and he also had a key, two-out hit drive in a big run. Through 20 starts, Martinez has a very respectable 3.36 ERA and more strikeouts than innings pitched. He has allowed an excellent 1.14 baserunners per inning — yet he only has a 6-8 record thanks to the lousy offense.

Sierra, Martinez and catcher Yadier Molina, who hit a home run Sunday that could have been the deciding blow if not for the ninth-inning meltdown, are the only three guys on the major league roster that ought to be untouchables on the St. Louis roster as we near the trade deadline.

That’s not to say none of the other 22 guys on the big league roster have value. But it may be time to consider who to build around and who to move aside to make room for future upgrades.

Tommy Pham has been excellent after a bad spring training caused him to be marooned in the minors for the first month of the season. But he’s 29 years old and the Cardinals system is flush with fly chasers. Third baseman Jedd Gyorko is having a career year. But isn’t it just that? He’s hitting 50 points higher than his career average — and lately he’s shown signs of coming back to earth. Trevor Rosenthal has been pitching very well in the eighth inning. But he can’t seem to get it done in the ninth these days and he’s got one more arbitration year before he become a free agent. Maybe St. Louis should get something for him while it can. Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Aledmys Diaz and others have had such lousy seasons that it’s unlikely they have much trade value.

Starting pitcher Lance Lynn is starting to look like a classic trade deadline rental player. He’s come back strong after Tommy John surgery and the Cardinals don’t seem to have much interest — or at least any sense of urgency — in trying to ink him to an extension.

Lynn hit a bit of a dead arm period about six weeks to two months into the season, which is to be expected from a pitcher trying to make a comeback after a year of rehab. But, besides that, he’s been very solid with a 3.40 earned run average and he’s a pitcher who has been very durable throughout the course of his career. While the Birds are anticipating Alex Reyes will return from his own Tommy John procedure and join the big league rotation in 2018, veteran ace Adam Wainwright and fragile right-handed hurler Michael Wacha are both candidates for a breakdown.

While the Cardinals might not be able to turn things around this season, it would be nice to get an idea of what we might be able to look forward to next year.