ACKERMAN: Pressure to win just increased the most for these 8 Cards

The front office has redirected the pressure right back to the players and field staff. They've basically said this team is good enough to win.

Tom Ackerman
August 01, 2019 - 2:05 pm
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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - Swing and a miss.

The Cardinals' front office struck out in its pursuit of a starting pitcher. The trade deadline, a true deadline this time, has come and gone without an upgrade. It's disappointing and frustrating, for sure.

Say this for John Mozeliak, the team's president of baseball operations... he warned us. Mozeliak said it himself on KMOX several times, weeks before the deadline, that the Cardinals liked some available starters but was unsure of the cost (in prospects). He even slammed the door on anyone looking to trade for Double-A outfielder Dylan Carlson, saying on KMOX they'd have to "be willing to pry him through my dead hands."

Is that definitive enough? Mozeliak was not going to trade Carlson.

Nolan Gorman? Too much upside, according to the front office, like it or not. Did they overvalue Gorman? He's 19, who knows?

It appears it was too difficult to move teams off those two. Unless you're the Mets, who reportedly inquired about New York native Harrison Bader in a package deal for pitcher Zack Wheeler. The Cardinals said no. Tyler O'Neill then? No.

Who else? Andrew Knizner? No. Alex Reyes? Injured. Gorman? We said no. Carlson? Pry him from my dead hands.

So, this was really the Cardinals not straying too far from their homegrown philosophy, holding onto prospects until they're ready to sign and keep.

The past few years, it hasn't worked. The Cardinals missed the playoffs in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Missed it by days, but contenders aren't playoff teams until they cross the finish line. They haven't been in the playoffs since 2015. Haven't seen the NLCS since 2014. And last appeared in a World Series in 2013.

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It's 2019. But... the season is not over. 

So what now? The Cardinals have to make the playoffs.

The front office has redirected the pressure right back to the players and field staff. They've basically said this team is good enough to win. Good enough to make it with questions in the rotation and a potentially taxed bullpen.

So do it. Get to October, Cardinals. The standards are high around here, and now you've been challenged.

Everyone is being watched, but here are some under the most pressure to perform:

1) Mike Shildt. The Cardinals manager said it over and over that he believed in this group, and the trade deadline wasn't going to determine a whole lot for him. He's supposed to say that as the manager, but he has gone 13-6 since the All-Star Break, climbing to the top of the division in the process. Shildt has the team playing a clean brand of baseball, both defensively and on the basepaths. The bullpen usage has been solid. The team has turned it up offensively. The only real issue is the starting pitching, which could ultimately be the team's downfall if they don't make it. Shildt will have to keep the team positive, but motivated, with a bit of an edge. A page out of Tony La Russa's book. And he must play the players who are producing, regardless of name. If you're peforming, you're going to play, period.

2) Matt Carpenter, Marcell Ozuna, Yadier Molina. The rehabbing trio will have to find their old selves somewhere in that process. Carpenter has struggled at the plate all season, but at this time last year he was the hottest hitter on the planet. Get him some salsa. Ozuna can carry a team for a few days when he gets on a power surge. Molina has adequate backups in Matt Wieters and Knizner, but they're not Yadi. Possessing an ability to deliver in clutch situations at the plate, Molina's true value is how he handles a pitching staff, especially one that needs a little extra guidance to navigate through this turbulence.

3) Michael Wacha. The fifth starter is back in the rotation, beginning his rebirth with a big date next week in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. Can Wacha find an extra gear to silence the doubters? Can the 2013 NLCS MVP go deep into games and keep the bullpen rested? Who else can?

4) Jack Flaherty. Still young, but he was expected to be one of baseball's breakout pitchers this season. There's still plenty of time, starting tonight against the Cubs. The Cards need him to pitch like a 1 or a 2, not a 4th or 5th starter. He'll start in the playoffs if they get there. (Playoffs?!) 

5) Paul Goldschmidt. Goldy can put a team on his back; it's not a coincidence they're winning while he goes on a home run binge (six games in a row, now 25 on the season) and hits .414 in last seven games. As he goes, the entire lineup goes.

6) Randy Arozarena. When he does get an opportunity, eventually, the Cardinals will benefit from his bat and ability to play everywhere in the outfield. Arozarena's skills translate to the next level. They need to find a spot for him on the 40-man roster... he's bashed nine home runs and is sitting on a .351 batting average in the minors.

The NL Central is still there for the taking. So go take it. You don't have any other choice at this point.

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