McNeal: Five ways the Cardinals can boost their playoff chances
ST. LOUIS — If you tend to view the glass as half-full, you probably believe the Cardinals will zip to the top of the NL Central as soon as their bats warm up.
But if you’re a half-empty type, you might have given up on the bats and see the Cardinals more likely to slip than rise in the standings in the second half.
Or, if you consider yourself to be as utterly objective as a very experienced (translation: old) member of the media, you readily admit you have no idea what the 79 remaining games might bring.
There only are a few things you can count on: Adam Wainwright will remain one of the game’s top starters, opponents will keep paying for running on Yadier Molina and 40,000-plus will continue to pile into Busch for the 41 home games that remain.
There’s also a few that, based on 2013, are likely to happen: Matt Holliday will carry the offense, Joe Kelly will dominate for a stretch and Matt Adams will lead the team in homers.
Of course, there are also some things that need to happen for the Cardinals to reach the postseason for the fourth straight year. Here’s five:
— Make a deal. It doesn’t have to be for a David Price. GM John Mozeliak has improved the club the past few years by making more of a mid-level trade, like John Axford last year or Edward Mujica in 2012. Mozeliak might want to turn more attention to the offense this time. A right-handed power bat such as Marlon Byrd who could spell Allen Craig in right field would be one possibility. Another possibility would be a third baseman such as the Rangers’ Adrian Beltre but that would require moving Matt Carpenter back to second and effectively giving up on Kolten Wong this season.
— Find at-bats for Oscar. Even though Taveras hit only .189 in his first call-up, the lineup still felt stronger with him in it than it did, for example, on Sunday when Peter Bourjos, Shane Robinson and Mark Ellis went 1 for 12 in bottom of the order. Taveras might even get hot and be able to carry the offense for a while ala Matt Adams last September. His return could provide a jolt to the offense by sending a message to the under-achievers that playing time is earned by hitting.
— Manage Molina’s workload. So far, the Cardinals have been giving Molina more rest this season. After 83 games last year, he had caught a total of 665 1/3 innings in 77 games. This year, he’s caught 630 innings in 72 games.
The added rest has yet to pay off — Molina’s batting average has slipped to .280 from .309 since the end of May — but as he approaches his 32nd birthday, it can’t be hurting. It was around this time last year when we found out that Molina’s right knee was bothering him, a development that landed him on the disabled list in the second half. When the Cardinals lost him for 15 days last year, they already had a nice cushion in the wild-card standings. They aren’t likely to have such a luxury this season.
— Get healthy. An imminent return of all five players on the disabled list isn’t likely but getting back Kelly should boost a pitching staff that has to be tiring from carrying the offense so much in the first half.
Wong could mean just as much to the lineup if he can return to hitting like he did when he was called up from Memphis. The bullpen has not missed a beat without Kevin Siegrist but it could be only a matter of time before the league starts to adjust to the likes of Nick Greenwood and Sam Freeman.
— Watch out for Michael Wacha. In a best-case scenario, a couple of weeks of rest will take care of the stress reaction in his right scapula, the club will figure out what caused his injury and he will resume his rapidly ascending career soon after the All-Star break. But with so much unknown about his injury, there’s a chance he could be out for months instead of weeks.
If that’s the case, there will be plenty to worry about whether you see the glass as half-full or not.