(Baseball STL) -- The second 3pm passed on Wednesday July 31st without nary a trade from GM John Mozeliak (no, Marc Rzepczynski to the Indians doesn't count), all eyes immediately went to the current crop of players on the roster.
This is the group that will determine the fate of the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals. It's been good enough, overall, so far this season. Then after scanning the trade market and realizing it was going to cost nearly an arm and a leg just to get microscopically better, Mozeliak decided it would have to be good enough for the rest of the season as well.
You wanted a new shortstop? Sorry. Your wait will continue until the offseason. Pete Kozma's going to be your guy.
Same goes for the starting rotation. Chris Carpenter almost certainly isn't coming back. And that means one thing. Joe Kelly, who was so good for the Redbirds a season ago, will man one of the five spots in the rotation for the foreseeable future.
And when you really want to get down to it, the Cardinals are going to go as far as their starting pitching takes them. More often than not that's what wins in baseball. Rarely do teams slug their way to World Series titles (sure, the Cards did it in 2011 but that's more of an outlier than anything).
Pitching wins in baseball. Specifically, starting pitching.
We all know what the Cards are going to get from ace Adam Wainwright. He's the consistent workhorse who wears opponents down from April thru October. There's no mystery there.
We also know what the Cards are going to get from veteran Jake Westbrook. His career 4.24 ERA tells the story. Some days he'll be really good and give you a heck of a chance to win. Other days he'll scuffle and hurt the team's chances more than anything. But all in all, he'll keep you in it but all the while relying on solid offensive production.
Everything in the middle, however, is one giant wild card. What the Cards get from Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn the rest of the season and into the playoffs is going to be the fate of this baseball team.
Miller started the season on fire (2.05 ERA in April, 1.99 ERA in May), cooled off in June (4.31) before finding his stride again in July (2.78). Will he wear down like he appeared to do in June when he lost all command of his fastball? Or will he thrive down the stretch? The answer to that question is the difference between having a second ace come October and having a back-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Lynn is an enigma. He's just as likely to throw a no-hitter with 14 strikeouts as he is to give up six runs in an inning. His last couple starts have been encouraging - 13 innings, two runs allowed total against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh - but that's not enough to believe he'll still have that command and effectiveness in a couple months. He's been very erratic in his time with St. Louis.
Then there's Kelly. When given a chance to start he's been fantastic. Opponents have hit just .206 off him when he's starting this season but nearly 100 points higher (.305) when he's coming out of the bullpen. Now that no one will be coming via trade - we think - and Chris Carpenter appears to be done for good - again, we think - one would assume Kelly is going to stick around. There's no track record for him in October as a starter so that's a factor as well.
From Miller to Lynn to Kelly, how they evolve over the course of the next two months just might determine the Cardinals fate in October.