At 44-47, the Cardinals currently sit in fourth place, nine games behind the Brewers for the National League Central lead. But the Cardinals aren’t ready to tear it down and start shedding trade assets. It’s not at all likely that the Cardinals become sellers this July, despite their current place in the standings, per The Athletic’s Katie Woo (via Twitter). Of course, that’s not unusual for the Cardinals, one of the most stable and competitive franchises in the game.
In terms of their chances for contention in 2021, nine games isn’t an inconceivable margin to overcome, though leapfrogging the three teams ahead of them might be as much of a challenge. That said, the Cubs do seem likely to sell, and therefore slip further down the standings as we move into August and September. The Cardinals are also 8.5 games out of a wild card spot, however, so there’s no clear path to a postseason spot.
That said, there are some reinforcements on the way. Both Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty threw bullpens yesterday, per Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat (via Twitter). Mikolas made just one start this year, but he’s been a productive member of the rotation in years past. Flaherty, of course, could be a difference-maker if he’s able to return from his torn oblique.
Jordan Hicks, however, may not return this season, notes Jones. Hicks has been out with elbow inflammation since May 2nd, and there’s still no telling when he might be ready to take the hill again. Given Hicks’ injury history, this latest chapter is particularly disheartening for the 24-year-old flamethrower.
Pitching hasn’t necessarily been the issue for the Cardinals, however. With 360 runs scored, they’ve outscored just the Mets and Pirates, and they are tied with Cleveland for 26th in the Majors with a 88 wRC+. They rank 25th with a .379 SLG and 26th with a .302 OBP. They’re putting the ball in play — 21.9 percent strikeout rate is tied for third-lowest in the Majors — but those balls are largely being turned into outs, as they’re also third-lowest by BABIP with a .272 team batting average on balls in play.
While the Cardinals are built around their pitching and defense, it’s safe to assume they expected more from the offense. They are healthy as a unit now, however, so perhaps the Cardinals expect a second half surge. Regardless, outside of a few veterans like Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Andrew Miller and Kwang Hyun Kim, most of the Cardinals’ roster is controlled beyond this season, so it’s not wholly unreasonable to avoid a sell-off, even if their playoff odds, at the moment, are a slim 1.8 percent, per Fangraphs.