The St. Louis Cardinals, despite the best record in Major League Baseball, are in a tricky spot.
They were 20 games over .500 on Flag Day, the point on the calendar when some folks believe the fun and games suddenly take on a more serious tone.
It’s almost a miracle that the Redbirds, despite the loss of their ace and their number two starting pitcher, their bullpen set-up man and their third and fourth-place hitters are off to the best start in the history of a hugely successful franchise.
Still, while the team has done a good job of absorbing those injuries and continuing to win, at some point it is going to need some help from outside the organization.
The Cardinals are in the bottom third of MLB teams in run production and they lack an established ace in the rotation after the loss of Adam Wainwright for the season.
Sure, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha are pitching great right now. But is it fair to expect them to have to take the ball in a game against the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer in a playoff game?
The beauty of the rotation, as it is presently composed, is that it gives the Cardinals a better than average chance to win every day during the regular season. The Cardinals have four guys who are all simply better than the average National League pitcher.
But they won’t be facing average pitchers in the playoffs. When the series get short in the post season and the importance of each game is magnified 100 fold, the Cardinals don’t have the horse like they did when Chris Carpenter was the anchor of the starting five or when Adam Wainwright was healthy.
As we saw with Carpenter in 2011 -- or from the opposite perspective from Bumgarner in 2014, one dominant starting pitcher can make all the difference in a short series.
Its a dilemma because the Birds, with the loss of Oscar Taveras to a tragic car crash and Shelby Miller in an effort to fill the void in the lineup caused by the death of Tavereas, don’t have the talent depth the once did to make a big trade.
They have guys in the minors that other teams like. But they can less afford the hit their future would absorb by losing top prospects than a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers.
LA not only has more high minors talent from which to deal. But the Dodgers are the biggest spenders in baseball these days. Lose a prospect? Replace him with an expensive free agent. What’s the big deal?
Well, it doesn’t work that way in a smaller market like St. Louis.
On the other hand, the Cardinals are a very special team. They certainly have 90 percent of the pieces right now to go all the way.
When you have the best record in a franchise’s century and a quarter of history, yet such obvious needs, is this the year to take a pass on trying to go for the big prize?
The Cardinals tend to default to playing things conservatively, looking for in-house solutions to their problems.
But it’s not unprecedented for general manager John Mozeliak to make aggressive, win-now types of deals.
Look back to the last St. Louis World Series championship in 2011. Mozeliak dealt away long-time top prospect Colby Rasmus for a journeyman starter (Edwin Jackson), an over-the-hill outfielder (Corey Patterson) and a lefty reliever (Marc Rzepczynski) and it put the team over the top.
It was a blessing in disguise that the Cardinals were rained out Sunday because it gives young hurlers Wacha and Martinez a chance to get an extra day of rest to preserve their arms. But the Cardinals don’t want to let either of those guys throw more than 180 innings and risk their careers. So they’re going to need some innings from someplace else at some point.
The Cardinals are going to have a tough time competing with other contenders for the handful of top end starting pitchers and middle of the order sluggers who are available.
But this team is too good for the front office to do nothing as others improve themselves at the trade deadline.