ST. LOUIS (BaseballStL) -- The post All-Star break part of the schedule begins Friday when the Redbirds head to Great American Ballpark to face the Reds in a 3-game set. The Cards stand in 3rd place, 2.5 games behind the 1st place Pirates. In order to make up that difference and win the division (or at least take a wild card spot) certain things are going to have to go right over the course of the next 2.5 months. Here are some keys to the rest of the season:
Yes. I'm well aware this is the number one key for any team in any sport at any point in time. Really thinking outside the box, I know. But for the Cards, who have had a ton of injuries already this season, health is even more of a key compared to your average team. Allen Craig missed time. So did Matt Carpenter. Chris Carpenter won't even suit up at all. Lance Berkman is still out. Kyle McClellan. Jaime Garcia. Heck, even Skip Schumaker battled injury. But there are 2 key players who have been phenomenal for the Redbirds this season that have not missed time and could break down at any point. They have a big time injury history and are as fragile as they come. Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran are a tweak away from the DL and that would be a very difficult thing for this team to overcome. As bad as this club has faced injuries in 2012, believe me when I say it could be much worse. Beltran has been the steady rock of the offense and Furcal has provided the spark at the top of the lineup that it's lacked for years. If one, or both, of those guys went down for an extended period of time...I'm not so sure the reinforcements are there to overcome it. The Cards need to have some luck the rest of the way.
2) Waino being Waino
Kyle Lohse is phenomenal. Jake Westbrook has righted the ship. Lance Lynn is a nice story. Joe Kelly is a pretty good one too. And I don't care who the Cards go get in the trade market....no one will be able to offer what Adam Wainwright does. Last year when things were dicey (Wainwright out, Lohse needing some starts skipped, Westbrook scuffling, etc) one man and one man alone was there to keep things together. Chris Carpenter was the rock of the rotation, the pitching staff and (quite possibly) the team. Well, we all know Carpenter is out for the year with nerve damage to his neck and shoulder so he won't be offering much of anything outside of some cheerleading. Wainwright has to step up and become that man in 2012. He has to be the one to stop a losing streak, to win a huge division game, to be a true ace. You don't win a World Series without an ace. And as good as Lohse, Westbrook, Lynn and Kelly have been...they're not aces. If you've got to face Matt Cain in the playoffs or Stephen Strasburg....there's only one man you want on the mound for the Cardinals to match him inning for inning. That's Wainwright. He's slowly but surely getting back to where he once was. By September, he needs to be there.
3) Mo pushing the right buttons....again
It's beyond unreasonable to expect GM John Mozeliak to do what he did last year. To pull of a couple trades that gave this team exactly what it needed to make a run. No GM does that. Let alone twice in a row. But the Cards are not perfect right now and they are in need of some reinforcements. A starter is required. A bullpen arm would be nice as well. And once again it's a question of what aisle the Mo wants to shop in. The "give me your top prospects or stop wasting the minutes on my cell phone" section or the "low hanging fruit" one. For those confused....that's the difference between Cole Hamels and, well, you get the idea. You've got to give up something to get something. No one denies going after someone like Hamels or Zack Greinke would give the Cards a better chance of winning. But is it for the betterment of the future of the franchise to give up what it takes to get them? Or is it better to spend less (prospect wise) to get a solid contributor, a la Edwin Jackson last season. Whichever route John Mozeliak chooses to go, this team has needs and they need to be met or the Redbirds will be watching the playoffs on TV. No one would've predicted Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Mark Rzepczynski and Rafael Furcal would've been the ingredients needed to add to the recipe that resulted in a championship. What does Mo come up with this time around? It's a huge factor.
4) Breakthrough seasons cannot crumble
Last year when Adam Wainwright went down Kyle McClellan was more than ready to take over that role. He began the year on fire. After starting on May 24th, McClellan stood at 6-1 with a 3.11 ERA. It was an exciting time because the Cards had someone to fill a major void. That great start, however, slowly faded. McClellan finished the season in the bullpen with an ERA north of 4. He wasn't even on the club's postseason roster for 2 of the 3 series. That cannot happen with guys like Lance Lynn this season. The Cards already need a starter with Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia no lock to return in August like he hopes. But whether he's in the rotation or the bullpen Lynn is going to be a major factor in where this team heads. Even Joe Kelly and his 2.70 earned run average will probably have a role down the stretch regardless of what GM John Mozeliak decides to do. Performances like these are a large reason why the Cardinals are where they are right now. They need to stay where they're at.