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The Cardinals are bruised but not broken

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The Cardinals have had a lot of recent injuries but they finally have the type of bench that can withstand a crowded disabled list.

San Diego Padres v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Maybe we should have known the minute Jose Oquendo was lost for the year that 2016 wasn’t going to be any different from 2015. If the one true constant Cardinal, the guy who doesn’t have much to do other than stand near third base and wave his arm from time to time, can’t stay healthy then what hope does a group of guys expected to play baseball games every day through the dead of summer have? (Counter-argument: Oquendo is about 25-years older than the average Cardinal on the current roster.) Very little, it seems.

The Cardinals currently have eleven players sitting on the disabled list. Five of them (Mitch Harris, Jordan Walden, Lance Lynn, Brayan Pena, Tyler Lyons) are on the 60-day DL, with Seth Maness likely to join them after it was announced earlier this week he would be having Tommy John surgery. Three of them (Harris, Walden, Lynn) have been out for the entire season, and Pena, the key ingredient added this offseason to get Yadier Molina some much needed rest, has only been available for nine plate appearances. As such, here we are:

Matt Holliday underwent surgery on his fractured thumb yesterday in an attempt to salvage a sliver of his 2016 season. We possibly have seen the last of Holliday in a Cardinal uniform. If he is able to return, the effect a healing thumb could have on his power – his main bright spot this season (.242/.318/.450) – remains to be seen.

There’s Aledmys Diaz, who was having a National League Rookie of the Year-type season in a Corey Seagerless field and hasn’t played since late July due to the same type of errant up-and-in pitch that also sidelined Holliday. Earliest he’ll be back is September.

Michael Wacha is a decent bet to be done for the season with a recurring injury to his right shoulder. There is no surgery which can heal him, there’s only hope that it doesn’t flare up too often. And Trevor Rosenthal hasn’t thrown a pitch since July 24 due to a rotator cuff injury and is at least a couple of weeks away from returning. Wacha and Rosenthal were both struggling through their worst seasons to date. Fair to blame this on the subsequent injuries? Who knows, but it would hardly be unreasonable to do so.

These, of course, are just some of the players who are hurt now. Between June 7 and August 3 the Chicago Cubs went a very pedestrian 26-25. If we believe this Cardinals’ team to be good, and I believe that they are, this was the time to make a move. Instead, they gained only 1.5 games on the leaders in the standings. Certainly not helping was the prolific, consistent Matt Carpenter (currently 3rd in the NL with a 153 wRC+) missing about a month of this span with an oblique strain.

It’s a surprise this hasn’t been a completely lost season. Last year the Cardinals had to contend with numerous injuries yet never trailed in the division after April 15 largely because they had a league-leading 2.94 team ERA, easily the best in baseball (the Cubs are first this year with a 3.11 ERA). This year the Cardinals haven’t been as lucky with the run prevention, their 4.08 team ERA is 11th.

But, and this is where John Mozeliak deserves some credit, they finally have a bench that can handle injuries. The Cardinals have hit an NL-leading 166 home runs this year. Sixty-six (40%) of those home runs have been clubbed by players who weren’t penciled into the starting lineup on April 3, Opening Day. Last year, non-starters on Opening Day hit 54 home runs total. In 2014, the number was 11.

Most notable here is Brandon Moss, who has elevated from the perceived bad return in a trade, to a guy worthy of a qualifying offer, and now to a guy the Cardinals might want to think about extending.

I’ve written this before but Mozeliak and Co. also assembled a group on the field that has flexibility simply for the fact that none of them (excluding Molina) are Gold Glovers. Never mind that Jedd Gyorko has been an above average hitter this year, the Cardinals fared well in this trade because he’s versatile enough to play all over the infield in a season when Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta, and Diaz have been lost to some degree to injury, and an ineffective Kolten Wong has spent time in Memphis.

The Cardinals have 14 players with at least 100 plate appearances this season. Eleven of them have at least 20 plate appearances at more than one position not counting DH or pinch hitting (the exception being Molina, Diaz, and Matt Adams). I lack the energy to find out if they’re unique in this regard, it wouldn’t surprise me if a deep team like the Cubs could boast something similar, but it seems unlikely that this would be a common phenomenon.

Ironically, this team has maybe benefitted from injuries. I’m not the first to make this point and there’s no way of truly knowing this but where is Aledmys Diaz if Peralta, Ruben Tejada, and Tommy Pham weren’t all injured early in the year? Assuming Diaz would have hit well in Memphis as he immediately did in St. Louis it’s likely he would have been called up eventually, but knowing how cautious this organization is with player development who knows when that actually happens. And while Diaz did eventually get hurt and his bat has been missed, Bernie Miklasz recently made the point that his injury, along with Holliday’s, may have actually strengthened the team’s defense.

Lastly, the farm system has developed the pitching talent to withstand the loss of Wacha, Rosenthal, Maness, and Tyler Lyons. Luke Weaver is set to be a regular starter for now and Alex Reyes has done nothing but dazzle in six scoreless innings from the pen.

Bottom line, the injuries have been unfortunate but the Cardinals aren’t special. This is a part of baseball, take a look at the Dodgers DL and you’ll find a team that doesn’t want to hear any complaining. The good news is the Cardinals finally have a bench and enough developed talent to backstop some of these injuries, and therefore, if they are lucky enough to make the postseason the hope is they won’t be coasting in on fumes and broken parts as they have in previous years.