(BaseballStL) -- The Cardinals start the second half of the season just one game behind the first place Milwaukee Brewers. They should complete the second half about five games ahead of Milwaukee and the rest of the pack in the National League Central.
The Brewers, Reds and Pirates have to be scratching their heads wondering how the Cardinals could have so many major problems in the first half and still be near the top of the division. Chances are, the second half will go smoother for the Cardinals even without Yadier Molina behind the plate.
I would expect the Cardinals to make at least one major trade before the July 31st deadline. Possibly a real whooper. The Troy Tulowitzki rumors are starting up again. Tulowitzki (Colorado Rockies) is the best shortstop in the game and one of the premier players in all of baseball. He makes $20 million a year and is under contract until 2021. He would also cost the Cardinals two or three of their top young players, but he would give the lineup a much needed jolt and improve the Cards chances of winning another National League pennant. Jhonny Peralta could move to third base and Matt Carpenter could go back to second. Under this scenario, Kolten Wong would likely be one of the players the Cardinals would deal to the Rockies for Tulo.
With Jaime Garcia done for the season and Michael Wacha’s availability in question, the Cardinals will also do some shopping for a starting pitcher. Some big names will likely be dealt before the deadline. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels of the Phillies, Jake Peavy of the Red Sox, and John Danks of the White Sox are among the veteran starters likely to be available if the price is right. Speaking of price, David Price of the Rays would also look good in Cardinal red, but he may no longer be available as Tampa shows signs of inching back into playoff contention. It would seem very unlikely that the Cardinals could land both a front line stating pitcher and a big bat for the lineup, but I’d be stunned if they didn’t get one or the other. They have the prospects and the cash to make it happen.
Even if the Cardinals don’t land a big hitter they should be better offensively in the second half. How could they be worse? They finished the first half next to last in the Major Leagues in runs scored. Only the lowly San Diego Padres have scored fewer runs. How is that possible? It starts with their big guns, Allen Craig hitting just .244, and Matt Holliday at .265. Neither has hit with much power. Both guys are performing well below their career averages. Holliday has shown signs recently of busting out of his slump. Craig is still struggling, but I would expect him to catch fire some time soon. Over the last three seasons Craig hit .315, .307, and .315. He’s proven to be a solid and consistent middle of the order hitter. I’d be stunned if he continues his current pattern of ground ball out after ground ball out. Craig is way overdue to find his stroke and start to perform up to his “RBI Machine” nickname.
Losing Molina for at least eight weeks, and possibly for the rest of the regular season, is a major setback. It’s impossible to replace him, but Tony Cruz has always done a decent job with the bat when he’s filled in. Maybe with regular starts over the next two months Cruz will improve both with the bat and defensively behind the plate. He’s spent most of his time the past two years on the bench and has still managed to perform well when called upon.
The Cardinals have the best roster in the National League Central. It’s still their division. This is going to be one of those seasons where nothing comes easy, but I would expect the Cardinals to battle through their issues, make the acquisitions needed to bolster the offense and the starting rotation, and beat out the Brewers by about five games for the Central division title.