Why are the St. Louis Cardinals 83-46 and clearly the best team in baseball? For starters, how about those that have, for lack of a better phrase, replaced their starters? The casual fan probably has heard about the Cards’ slew of injuries in 2015 and knows they are deep, but probably not the depth of that depth. In Saturday’s 6-0 shellacking of the defending champion San Francisco Giants, Stephen Piscotty put on a front-and-center display.
Piscotty’s amazing start to his Major League career continued with a 4-for-4 day in which he singled thrice, tripled, and walked. It is his third game of at least three hits, and he is now batting .344 with four home runs and 23 runs batted in over just 35 games. The four home runs are particularly significant, because they match the total of the man he essentially replaced. Matt Holliday, perhaps the heart-and-soul of St. Louis’ offense and a legitimate power hitter throughout his career, has hit only four in nearly twice as many games (63).
And of course, Piscotty is not alone. He joins a laundry list of unsung heroes who have replaced an ever-growing list of sidelined cogs, names that even many Cardinals fans probably hadn’t heard of before 2015. Tommy Pham, Sam Tuivailala, Xavier Scruggs, Tim Cooney, Miguel Socolovich – just to name a few – have all had a big impact in one way or another.
Meanwhile, who could have seen this coming? No one could have envisioned 83-46 even if everything went according to plan, let alone this “keep-the-line-moving” approach that has been downright magical. Wainwright, Holliday, Matt Adams, Randal Grichuk, Jon Jay, Jordan Walden, and Matt Belisle are all currently out, with more than half of those having missed the majority of the season. That’s precisely 28 percent of the team’s opening day roster, and yet the wins keep on coming.
At this point, we can stop asking the question of whether it will catch up with the Cardinals. Not only will it not catch up with them, it will create a very enviable scenario in which the Cards may have to keep some of these key pieces idle simply because it would shake up a very good thing.
Wainwright is not coming back, as much as he argues that he will. If Grichuk comes back, center field is all his. If Holliday comes back, where does Piscotty play? Talk about moving the star rookie to first continues to circulate, but what about the newly-acquired Brandon Moss and Mark Reynolds? Better yet, what if Adams comes back? What looked like a season-ending quad tear may not turn out as such, as Adams is getting closer to a rehab assignment.
And how about the bullpen? Steve Cishek and Jonathan Broxton were brought in as reinforcements, but Belisle is on the mend. So who is the odd man out now? St. Louis already optioned a pitcher who was 4-1 with a 1.54 ERA in 21 games in Socolovich, so would Carlos Villanueva (4-3, 2.34 ERA in 29 games) or 16-year veteran lefty specialist Randy Choate be shipped out? Belisle, 35, posted a 3.00 ERA in 30 games, so he’s not exactly expendable.
Through all of this, we haven’t even touched on a few of the current Minor Leaguers who would be legitimate options for the majority of other teams in the league. Cooney, Lyons, and 2014 postseason standout Marco Gonzales are all Major League-ready, but likely won’t see much action even if they earn a September call-up.
What a wonderful problem for St. Louis, which likely won’t need to stress about resigning pending free agents Jason Heyward and John Lackey. The Cards’ September call-ups won’t be like most other clubs giving unproven youngsters a chance; rather, it will be a chance to cram healing talent onto an already-loaded roster. General manager John Mozeliak won’t have any “tough” decisions until October.