Monday’s announcement that the battery of Yadier Molina and Michael Wacha will begin a rehab assignment sometime this week puts both players ahead of their perceived timetable. The return, for the team, means that the Cardinals will be as close to full strength in the near future, something they haven’t been able to say since the beginning of the season.
Molina and Wacha have obviously been missed since going down well before the all-star break.
Wacha’s spot in the rotation has been filled by pitchers Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez, and now Justin Masterson, but none of the three have been overly successful or anywhere near as reliable as Wacha was. With Wacha’s presumed return to the rotation, Justin Masterson’s spot on the roster will be put in doubt. Masterson is an upcoming free agent after the season and the Cardinals , if encouraged by Wacha, may be more inclined to release or DFA the veteran than they would be to put him in the bullpen.
The Cardinals are hoping to get two or three rehab starts for Wacha, who wasn’t expected to be back until September, but has had his timetable moved up thanks to three successful bullpen sessions. Wacha could be the spark not only for the last month of the regular season, but also the number two or three started for a potential playoff series.
Molina has been missed a fair bit as well. Since going down, Molina’s replacements of Tony Cruz and AJ Pierzynski have thrown out just three batters in 41 games. On the season, Cruz and Pierzynski have thrown out just six of twenty-seven runners, a far cry from the 51% of runners Yadier Molina has shut down this season. Often, since Molina’s injury, a single has turned into a double thanks to the lacking arms behind the plate for the Cardinals.
Cards also 24-17 since Molina’s last game. A year ago down time allegedly buttressed his MVP candidacy.
— Joe Strauss (@JoeStrauss) August 26, 2014
Molina’s consistency at the plate has also affected the Cardinals’ lineup at times during his absence. Molina was batting .287 with seven homeruns and thirty RBI’s when he went down. Since, the Cardinals catchers, excluding the six at-bats of George Kottaras, have combined for a .201 batting average with just one homerun and ten RBI’s.
Molina shouldn’t be expected to put up the same numbers as he did before his wrist injury, but Cardinals fans should expect a batting average well above the Mendoza line.
Molina’s masterful control of the pitching staff has also been missed since mid-July. Before Molina went down, ace Adam Wainwright was the front-runner for the NL Cy Young. Wainwright owned an 11-4 record and a sparking 1.79 ERA. Since the Molina injury, however, he’s fallen well of the pace, compiling a 4-4 record with an ERA of 4.41.
The rest of the roation, as well as the bullpen, has been shaky as well.Pitchers Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez, and Nick Greenwood have been sent down and recalled multiple times, battling injuries and consistency, while starters outside of Lance Lynn have seen their numbers decline much like Wainwright.
The Cardinals’ pitching carried the team early on, when both Molina and Wacha were healthy, but has been near the bottom of the league statistically since July. If both are able to return and perform anywhere near the way they did pre-injury, the Cardinals should be back in the discussion as possible National League champions and should compete with the Milwaukee Brewers for the National League Central title.