Cheap Seats

Injuries derail red-hot Cardinals. Reinforcements are coming, but are they enough?

Pitcher Austin Gomber sits on the bench in the sixth inning of a game in Detroit on Sept. 7. He’s part of a deep staff that will return to St. Louis in 2019.
Pitcher Austin Gomber sits on the bench in the sixth inning of a game in Detroit on Sept. 7. He’s part of a deep staff that will return to St. Louis in 2019. AP

The St. Louis Cardinals were able to salvage a game Sunday against the Detroit Tigers. It was a big win.

Unfortunately, winning one game out of three against teams that have packed it in for the season isn’t the way to catch up in the National League Central Division. It’s great that the Redbirds were able to put together a string of 10 series won in a row following the All-Star Break. But I’m a little bit afraid that the Cardinals peaked too early, running out of gas before the finish line.

While fatigue could account for the reversion to sloppy play and shaky bullpen work, the more likely explanation is that injuries finally caught up with this club.

The Cardinals went to Detroit with team leader Yadier Molina on the shelf with a hamstring injury. They were counting on starting pitcher Michael Wacha returning to the rotation so that guys like Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson could get something of a break after being used more than they were expected to — then Wacha’s rehab assignment derailed. Marcell Ozuna went on the disabled list because of discomfort to a shoulder blamed for decreasing his power at the plate and limiting his ability to throw in the field. He’s back on active roster. But, judging from the way he’s throwing, he doesn’t seem like he’s much improved. Relievers Jordan Hicks and Bud Norris both seem like they’re suffering from over use.

It all just adds up over the course of a long season.

We’ll see Monday night if longtime Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright is able to contribute something meaningful to this team — or if his return after spending most of the season on the disabled list was timed to give him one last home start to say goodbye to the fans he has thrilled for so long. The reports have been optimistic lately. But the problem with Wainwright the last two years is that he has virtually no durability. He can pitch a couple of impressive innings — but then his well-worn elbow starts to bark and he starts to get battered. It would be a wonderful help to this team if Wainwright could hold it together to make a few starts and give the rest of the pitching staff a bit of a breather. But the dream would be if he could catch lightning in a bottle, giving everything he had for one last run to the World Series, bookending a career that started with him surprising as a rookie pitching out of a the bullpen by rising from the scrap heap in his swan song year to make a surprise impact in the starting rotation.

While Norris looks toasted, it seems the Birds have solved at least one problem with Carlos Martinez taking over in the closer role.

Martinez, who ought to be well equipped to be a finisher with several finishing pitches and the experience to pitch in high pressure situations, ought to be a boost to the morale of a team stung on back-to-back nights by lousy ninth inning performances. It has to be crushing to be in a game all night long to lose at the end, especially in games where you’ve led the whole way or at least been in the thick of things the whole game.

That helps now. But I really wonder if the Cardinals might consider the idea of making Martinez the closer permanently. He’s got bullpen experience, he’s been prone to mid-season lulls where he appears to become tired and ineffective logging the innings of a starter and he’s already under contract. With as many starting pitching candidates as the Birds have — especially if Alex Reyes can come back next year after what amounts to four innings pitched in two years — it might make a lot of sense to make the move permanently. Or at least until Jordan Hicks has another year to mature as a major league player.