The news out of St. Louis yesterday was not good. Starting first baseman Matt Adams has a torn right quadriceps muscle in his leg that he injured running the bases on Tuesday. It's not going to be a quick healing process either. Adams will require surgery and will be out at least 3-4 months, putting his entire season in jeopardy. And yet, the Cardinals are going to be ok.
It's still sad, of course. Despite a slow start in 2015 (.243/.281/.375), Adams had become a good young hitter and a decent first baseman in spite of his relatively humble start as a 23rd round draft pick and his massive frame. He's a player that's easy to root for, but one who is not so good that he can't be easily supplanted by whichever hitting prospect the Cardinals are developing next. As such, it's frustrating to see his chance at a long big-league career potentially interrupted. I'm sure the Cardinals are disappointed too.
NO TIME FOR CAUTION
That is not to say that the Cardinals are in any real trouble, however. As we've said, Adams has not been playing well, and has contributed little to St. Louis's 31-16 start. Moreover, St. Louis, perhaps more than any other club in baseball, has steeled itself to endure the inevitable injuries that come for every big league team.
When Adam Wainwright fell, Tyler Lyons stepped in first and had good underlying numbers, but was quickly replaced by Jaime Garcia coming back from shoulder trouble. When Jon Jay went down with thumb and wrist problems, it was simplicity itself to elevate Peter Bourjos into center field, where he has played well.
Now, with Adams down, manager Mike Matheny will turn to Mark Reynolds first. Reynolds is a strikeout machine and a poor fielder, but he still has much of the magnificent power he flashed in his mid-twenties, when he regularly hit 30-40 homers for the Diamondbacks. Thusfar, he has outhit Adams on the year as well at .253/.321/.404. There is also some indication that 23 year old outfielder Randal Grichuk (.308/.333/.615) or 24 year old Stephen Piscotty (.275/.350/.420 in two seasons at Triple-A) would be available to fill in as well. The Cardinals are prepared to weather this storm, if they have to.
Now, granted, Reynolds, Grichuk, and Piscotty are not ideal options. Reynolds is on the wrong side of 30 and has an extremely limited skill set. Grichuk and Piscotty are untested. The Cardinals could, and perhaps should, look into upgrading the position before the trade deadline at the end of July. That said, they already have a five and a half game lead over the Cubs.
Also, compare the Cardinals' situation with that of the Reds. Cincinnati's all star catcher, Devin Mesoraco, hurt his hip in early April. Rather than putting him on the disabled list and seeking treatment options immediately, the Reds kept him on the roster as solely a designated and pinch hitter for six weeks, in which time he got six hits. They burned up a roster spot with a true one-dimensional player who was just a shadow of his former self simply because all of the other options were so awful. The Reds essentially didn't have anyone else better than a hobbled Mesoraco they could trust to pinch hit, and so they allowed him to languish and continue to risk his long-term health.
The flexibility provided by having a Reynolds and Grichuk on hand is one important trait that separates clubs like the Cardinals and the Reds. The Cardinals always seem to have another guy to turn to, who they can trust to provide at least replacement level production. It's why they don't have to sweat replacing their players when a couple of them eventually go down, why they have made the playoffs 11 times and finished above .500 14 times in the last 15 seasons, and why they are probably going to win again in 2015. The Cardinals are always prepared.