The Cardinals' biggest need now is what it was in March: Bullpen help.
But it's never been a matter of identifying the problem. It's more of an issue of filling one hole without creating another.
St. Louis fans have been salivating for two months about the possibility of adding Padres closer Heath Bell to the roster. But the problem is, as much sense as it makes on the surface for the Padres to trade their closer for a couple of young, cheap players, San Diego doesn't seem inclined to just give Bell away.
In fact, about five different teams have inquired about Bell, according to the rumor mill. So, if the Cardinals hope to land him, they're going to have to win a bidding war. And that's when I start to get sqeemish. Do the Cardinals want to give away Shelby Miller or Colby Rasmus to rent bell for 2 1/2 months? I know I don't want them to.
I wonder if it might make more sense for the Redbirds to try to land a middle to back of the rotation starting pitcher instead.
First, a guy like that is going to be easier to land than a dominant closer. And, second, incumbent closer Fernando Salas has been doing very well lately. I am content, at least for a while, to sit tight and see how he plays out.
But the real benefit of getting a starter -- other than providing depth in the rotation that the Cardinals lack and giving the team a measure of insurance against the starting pitching dearth that sank the club last season -- would allow the team to move Kyle McClellan back to the setup slot in the bullpen and make the Birds' late game options that much better.
I know manager Tony La Russa is loathe to pull the rug out from under a guy once he's earned a promotion. But he has to think of what is better for the team. On May 14 McClellan was 5-0 with a 3.30 ERA. Since then he is 1-5 with a 5.17 ERA. It's pretty obvious the guy has hit the wall with a resounding splat. While McClellan has been the Cardinals' fifth starter, he's shown in the past that he's been a very valuable bullpenner.
If the Cardinals could fix the pitching situation, I feel very good about the rest of this team. Lance Berkman has been about twice the player the Cardinals could have realistically hoped for when they signed him. Matt Holliday is back in stride after his time on the disabled list and Jon Jay has proved that his spirited and capable play last season was no fluke. The Cardinals bench, which seemed to be wafer thin in the spring, has turned out to be quite good.
It appears Pujols will be back sooner rather than later. With David Freese and Nick Punto back the offense and the defense are in better shape than they have been since May. And word is that Allen Craig will soon be back, giving the bench another boost.
I am eager to see, with how well the Cardinals have played through adversity, what the team is capable of when it is running at full capacity.