When the St. Louis Cardinals dropped both games of a doubleheader and the division lead to the Pirates Tuesday, it was not the worst thing that happened to the club that day. The most troubling problem was when Cards catcher Yadier Molina’s sprained knee flared up and he left the game, ending up on the 15-day disabled list. While the Cardinals have downplayed the seriousness of the injury, playing without Yadi even for two weeks can be a huge blow in this tight race for the division. With a tough upcoming schedule it is imperative that the Cardinals at least tread water in Molina’s absence. These could be a defining next two weeks in the Cards’ quest to win the National League central division.
The Cardinals already had two other catchers on the roster when Molina went down; Tony Cruz and Rob Johnson. Johnson is a veteran with an unproven bat, although the Cardinals’ management loves his ability to handle a pitching staff. However it will be Cruz who will get the majority of the playing time while Molina is injured. Cruz has spent the last year and a half behind Molina, getting very little playing time. But the Cardinals have always been bullish on Cruz, 26, even crediting him with some Molina-like qualities behind the plate. Cruz has had very little major league opportunities at the dish however, and unless he surprises everyone with his offensive production it will be a huge drop off from that of Molina’s.
The Cardinals supposedly tested the trade market for catchers for a day after Molina’s injury and before the non-waiver trade deadline passed. There was not enough time to strike a deal, but if they had, it would have shown very little confidence in Cruz’s ability, as well as a pessimistic outlook on Molina’s timely return. This is finally Cruz’s time to show that he can consistently handle the pitching staff and step up offensively. This team should have plenty of offense to make up for the Molina loss if everyone is right. The silver lining in the disastrous Pittsburgh series was that the all-encompassing team slump appeared to be broken in the 13-0 win in the series finale. Every spot in the Cardinal lineup produced, including Tony Cruz, and that is how the team will have to play for the next two weeks. They need to play at least .500 ball over that time to stay in the divisional race.