Jack Flaherty is slated to return to the St. Louis Cardinals when they face the Kansas City Royals on Friday. Flaherty will join a rotation decimated by injuries and plagued by control issues. His injury coincided with the fall of the team in the standings. Flaherty’s return should trigger some improvement in the standings, but the Cardinals’ playoff hopes are exceedingly thin. Miles Mikolas should follow close behind. He is scheduled to complete what is expected to be his final rehab start on Saturday and could return as early as next week.
The Cardinals made two surprising moves at the trade deadline. They added aging pitchers J.A. Happ and Jon Lester on July 30th. The Cardinals are using both as starters to prop up the struggling rotation. The early returns have been mixed. In two starts, Happ has an ERA of 2.45 and a WHIP of 0.818 across 11 innings. The Cardinals are 1-1 in his starts. Meanwhile, Lester has lasted 10 1/3 innings in two starts with an ERA over nine and a WHIP near 2.00. The Cardinals lost both games.
The cost for both pitchers was seemingly low. The Cardinals sent Lane Thomas to the Washington Nationals for Lester. Thomas was unlikely to get another shot in the Cardinals outfield. The Minnesota Twins received John Gant when they shipped Happ to St. Louis. Gant is a serviceable asset, but his luck with keeping runs off of the board while allowing a lot of baserunners had waned.
In short, the trades the Cardinals made were reasonable, but the timing was surprising. If the Cardinals added two starters in early June, the team may have stayed competitive throughout the season. On May 31st, when Flaherty was injured, the Cardinals were six games over .500. If they played .500 baseball during June and July, the Cardinals would have hit the trade deadline six and a half games back in the Central division and three and a half back in the wild card standings. Instead the team appears to be a nonfactor for this year’s playoffs because the rotation wasn’t stabilized. Sure, there has to be a starter available and a price that is reasonable, but waiting until July 30th to fully patch the rotation seemed to be a concession of the season.
That’s not to say moves weren’t made. The signing of Wade LeBlanc has turned into a bargain. The various waiver wire additions absorbed some innings. But it’s easy to see how adding two veteran starters earlier would have led to far better results when considering the pressure the bullpen and taxi squad have been under.
If it wasn’t worth the investment in early June, adding those veterans with Flaherty and Mikolas a few weeks from bolstering the rotation seems odd. Now the Cardinals must sort through the various options to find an effective rotation. Adam Wainwright, Flaherty, and Mikolas are assured spots if healthy. LeBlanc was throwing well enough to warrant a spot before he left Thursday’ s game with elbow pain. That leaves Happ, Lester, Kwang Hyun Kim, and Jake Woodford for the last two spots. The Cardinals have proven that there is no such thing as too many starting pitchers, but it would be nice to use those arms for a playoff surge.
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