St. Louis Cardinals disappointments, surprises

Here’s a look back at the five biggest disappointments and surprises from the first half of the year, as well as a look ahead at the team’s biggest questions.

Street. Lewis – The Cardinals start the second half of the season Friday night in Cincinnati with a record 50-44, half a game ahead of the Brewers’ leading team.

He’s not as record-breaking as they had hoped when the year started, but given all the injuries they’ve had so far, they know it could be a lot worse.

The Cardinals should also be satisfied that they have endured the worst part of their season. Starting Friday, according to current win and loss records, they will have the easiest table left for any team in the majors.

Of the 68 games remaining, more than half – 38 – will be against the Reds (11), the Cubs (11), the Pirates (9) and the Nationals (7) – who total 92 games under 0.500.

Here’s a look back at the five biggest disappointments and surprises from the first half of the year, as well as a look ahead at the five biggest questions the team has faced in the last two and a half months:

Jack Flaherty – The Cardinal knew in spring training that he would have a late start to his season with a shoulder problem, but they probably didn’t think they’d make it to the All-Star break and see Flaherty made just three starts which lasted for eight runs before returning to the injured list. For Flaherty and the Cardinals, injuries could affect the bowler who at the end of 2019 looked like he was ready to join the ranks of the league’s top bowlers. Since then, he has thrown only 126 2/3 in 2 years.

Molina runs Sore knees were the reason Molina entered the injured list in June, and it’s likely part of the reason he started just 35 of the team’s first 65 games behind the plate before then. Hitting .213 and playing only half of the team probably isn’t what the Cardinal expected from Molina in the final season of his career. More than his performance on the field, the Cardinals’ decision to let him leave the team was when he went to IL and was rehabilitating at his home in Puerto Rico. The team, and especially professional catch-up player Evan Herrera, could have benefited from being around Molina on a daily basis.

Tyler O’Neill – A year later when he was finally able to stay on the field, playing 138 games and hitting 34 wrecks, the Cardinal was counting on the same kind of season from O’Neill this year. Instead, injuries returned, and he spent two separate spells in IL, missing 42 of the Cardinals’ first 94 games. When he was in the lineup, O’Neill didn’t show the same level of production, hitting just four birds in 176 rackets.

Paul Dejong The Cardinal had hoped that this year would be a comeback for the former star after two frustrating seasons, but that didn’t happen. Another slow start – just 0.130 in his first 24 games – demoted DeJong to Memphis, where he hit some home kicks but still tried to find an answer to his offensive problems.

Andrew Kneisner Molina’s need to take more days off than usual when he was on the roster, and going to IL for over a month, gave Knizner a chance to play the time he didn’t have the last two seasons as Molina’s backup. Unfortunately, he did not take advantage of this opportunity, scoring only 0.207 on the break. His average was worse, .173, before he’s played 8 of 17 in his last seven games, a trend the Cardinals hope to continue when the second half begins.

Brendan Donovan -After about a year playing in Class A Peoria, Donovan found himself in the big leagues – and as much as the Cardinals loved him as a prospect, they didn’t expect him to lead all the NL rookies in results, on average, doubles and RBIs in the All-Star break. Donovan did this by starting matches in six defensive positions, and playing well in all of them. Finding a way to keep him on the field when some of the injured Cardinals return will be something manager Ole Marmol will need to know.

Andre Balant – The only rookie to make the Cardinal’s opening day roster, Palante’s performance in middle relief, and injuries, gave him a chance to move to the alternate. His 70 innings is the third most by a newbie in NL, and his 3.34 ERA is among the rising leaders. Whether he stays in the rotation or returns to the playing field is likely to be determined by two factors – where he can fill a greater need for the team, and how many runs the Cardinal wants to throw this season. He threw a combined 115 rounds last year during his minor league season followed by a spell in the Arizona Fall League.

Ryan Hillsley Despite the quality of Helsley’s performance so far in his career, coming out with minor surgery on his knee and elbow has left little uncertainty this season about how to throw the ball. Anyone who saw the two speed balls at 103 miles per hour thrown in their goalless turn at the All-Star Game Tuesday night knows that’s no longer a concern. Helsley has become one of the league’s top losers, a reassuring presence at the back of the Cardinals’ table.

Paul Goldschmidt It may seem a little strange on the surface to say Goldschmidt’s performance in the first half of the season has been a surprise, but not many would have expected that he would lead the league with an average of 0.330 points, 35 points higher than his performance. He averaged his career, which helped establish him as the best player in the league. He also leads the league in running, base percentage, slow percentage and OPS. On Tuesday night, Cardinal became only the second Cardinal since 1974 to hit a home run in the All-Star Game.

Zach Thompson The sample size is still small, but Thompson’s left-handed performance as a shorter was impressive. In nine games, covering 15 rounds, the previous first round draft allowed only seven hits while facing 54 hitters with four turns, 12 strikes and a 0.60 ERA. Including his first start, the left is only 3 of 26 against Thompson this season. Having Thompson, Jordan Hicks and possibly Palante as bridge runners to get a match against Heelsley could be key to the Cardinals’ success for the rest of the season.

Will the team get any help from Flaherty?

The cardinals wished they knew the answer to this question. As it stands now, they know the earliest he can be back from the 60-day hit list is late August, and that’s if Flaherty doesn’t have any further issues when he actually starts performing again. No doubt the Cardinals want him to start rehab more than he did earlier this year, and that may delay his return until September. By this point, it’s probably best that they don’t rely on too much of him and just hope he’s fully recovered before the start of next season.

The Cardinals at least have a plan for Molina’s return, but how good his knees feel is likely to be the biggest factor in how often Molina plays, and how well he plays. He is scheduled to begin a rehabilitation mission for the palace towards the end of this month and rejoin the team in early August. The hope must be that Molina is at least able to start the nine games he needs with Adam Wainwright to establish the record for the most career beginning pitcher and hunter. The question is whether he feels better enough to start a game or two a week. At least coming back to the team, even on the days he doesn’t play, would be a positive development.

Can they win without adding the bowler?

The Cardinal begins the second half with alternating Wainwright, Miles Micholas, Ballante and Stephen Matz, who saw his return from the injured roster rainy last Sunday. Dakota Hudson is expected to be out of IL in about a week. Matz’s last start was on May 17, and when he made the pitch, he had a 6.03 ERA. It will need to be better and more durable. Adding a starter would allow Pallante back into the database, but the question would be how much effort the front office would have to make a big deal, likely requiring them to trade in at least one of the top leads, to get a starter who would be better than what they have. The Cardinals will probably have enough share, if they are healthy, to complete the season without making a deal, but it probably won’t be enough for a deep playoff even if they win the division or win a place in the wildcard.

Did Dylan Carlson’s midfield play make Harrison Bader a commercial candidate?

This is the wild question that the Cardinals did not anticipate when the year began. Badr exited with a foot injury that allowed Carlson to move into the position on a regular basis, and he seized the opportunity and showed that he is more than capable of playing the position defensively. He’s a different kind of defender than Badr, but he’s still very effective. With Badr contracted for next season, the team may be more willing to trade with him, especially the team that cares more about their defense than their attack. Even if the trade doesn’t materialize before the August 2 deadline, the Cardinals and any potential trading partners will likely explore during the off-season.

Will they give Alec Burleson a chance?

The answer to this question can be linked to two factors – whether the Cardinals replace a player from the Major League roster before the deadline, or if more than one player is injured. Burleson’s performance in Triple A Memphis certainly made him worthy of the promotion. The 23-year-old left-handed hitter averaged 341 with 16 home doubles, 16 doubles and 65 RBI in 78 games, which other teams have surely taken note of, which also means his name will come up in any business conversations. What works against Burleson receiving a call to the Majors is that he doesn’t have to go to the 40-player roster for another year and unless he’s been playing regularly, the Cardinal will likely use that roster spot for a player they do not want to risk losing in this winter’s Fifth Base Draft.

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