Well, the trade deadline has come and gone, and for the Cardinals it turned out to be much ado about nothing. For all the rumors regarding Bay, Fuentes, Burnett, Holliday, Marte, etc, the Cardinals only deal in the last week was to ship Anthony Reyes to Cleveland for a AA pitcher. Not exactly the impact deal many were expecting. While I am slightly disappointed that we did not improve the bullpen at all, I think Mozeliak did the right thing. He indicated that most of his effort the last couple of days was with Colorado regarding Fuentes, but that the price was just too high. The Cardinals would not have been well served to give up multiple prime prospects to add a free-agent-to-be like Fuentes. In the end, it appears that the asking price for left-handed relief was simply too high across the league. The fact that Arthur Rhodes was the only lefty reliever to move yesterday bears this out. Many rumors swirled around Sherrill, Ohman, Mahay, Fuentes and Grabow, but all of them stayed put. Teams were just asking for a King's ransom and no one bit. Mozeliak was doing the right thing to focus on Fuentes, who was the one guy that would have most benefitted the Cardinal bullpen, and he also did the right thing to not over-pay.
I think the Cardinals are also served by keeping their minor-league talent intact. Depending on what happens with the contract situations of Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel, the Cards could deal this winter from a plethora of outfielders that includes Ankiel, Ludwick, Schumaker, Joe Mather, Nick Stavinoha, Colby Rasmus and Chris Duncan. Good showings by Mather and Stavinoha at the major league level are increasing their value and will allow Mozeliak to deal from a position of strength in the off-season, when he is more likely to get good value by dealing from this abundance of outfielders.
So, where do the Cards go from here? They begin August tied for the wild-card lead, and I don't think there is any reason why they can't and won't continue to stay in the race. Primarily, I see three things that need to happen for us to reach the post-season:
1. Effectiveness from Chris Carpenter and a returning Adam Wainwright to shore up the rotation. The starters must go deeper in games to keep the pressure and workload off the bullpen. The Cardinal bullpen was much better in April and May when Wainwright, Lohse and Wellemeyer in particular were going deep into games. The bullpen needs less work to not be over-exposed.
2. Jason Isringhausen must step up and return to form and be effective closing out games. Since the Cards are going with what they have....the pressure is on Izzy. Ryan Franklin is not the answer and there are no other viable alternatives in the current bullpen or in Memphis. If Izzy falters, you may see Adam Wainwright return to that role, but that would weaken the rotation down the stretch.
3. Ron Villone and/or Randy Flores has to be able to get LH hitters out in key situations. There is the possibility of adding a lefty via a waiver deal, but more than likely it is going to be one of these guys facing tough left-handed hitters in key 7th and 8th inning spots during August and September.
Offensively and defensively, I think we are in good shape. The three areas mentioned here are the keys that can get us to the post-season, particularly in regard to bullpen performance. I'm comforted by the fact that in 2006, our bullpen was a problem area most of the season, but they stepped up in September and in the post-season and were a team strength when it really mattered. A repeat of that in 2008 would go a long way toward another Red October.