(BaseballStL) -- Late August and September is traditionally the time when major league clubs begin to look at their minor league talent, assess their strengths and needs going forward and project their depth.
Extensive experimentation is generally confined to teams already out of any play-off contention. But the St. Louis Cardinals are an exception. Sudden power outages, tired arms, and injuries have forced them to look at young talent while trying to stay in contention.
So far, so good.
A dozen or so minor leaguers have made their major league debut this year on the Cardinals as they have shuffled line-ups and plugged in young talent to jump-start a sagging offense and a makeshift pitching staff.
The result has been a minor resurgence of the Redbird fortunes as they played themselves back in contention with back-to-back series wins against the suddenly vulnerable Pittsburgh Pirates and the AAA-roster Chicago Cubs.
With a chance to make up more ground against the Brewers while the Pirates are on the west coast, the Birds could be in excellent position when they embark on the most crucial 17 games of the season starting Thursday at home against Atlanta.
Following four games against the Braves, the Cards play the Pirates six times and the Reds seven, between Aug. 22 and Sept. 8 by which time the play-off picture should be exceedingly clear.
So what has the big club learned about its minor leaguers and what might they look like in 2014 and beyond?
Should they decide to capitalize on their abundant young talent, the line-up might look like this: Kolton Wong, 2b, Matt Carpenter, 3b, Matt Holliday, lf, Allen Craig, rf, Yadier Molina, c, Matt Adams, 1b, John Jay, cf, Daniel Descalso/Pete Kozma ss. Should Oscar Taveras emerge from ankle surgery without lingering consequences, it would be assumed he will need at least part of the year in Triple A Memphis, giving the Cards a chance to assess its line-up early in the season.
The rotation might be Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia and Joe Kelly, although Garcia may need several minor league starts to regain his rhythm, giving Tyler Lyons or Michael Wacha an early call-up.
The bullpen looks reasonably sound with the return of Jason Motte, who is already signed for 2014, but there would still be room for Edward Mujica, should the Cards decide to make a run at resigning him.
Given the kind of years and salary Carlos Beltran would command, it would seem unlikely the Redbirds would make more than a courtesy offer. With arbitration looming for David Freese, the Cards may shop him, although teams might be reluctant until a deal is in place and the salary and years are known. Jake Westbrook does not figure into their plans in any way now apparent.
The question GM John Mozeliak must address is whether the Cardinals can remain competitive with a largely rookie line-up. The emergence of the Pirates’ young stars may both provide assurance they can and evidence they must pursue that course before they fall into mediocrity with a roster of aging stars.