COMMENTARY | St. Louis Cardinals catcher and on-field leader Yadier Molina went down to injury recently. The Cardinals are in the midst of a tailspin without him, and there are mounting concerns as to the multiple areas the team may struggle in without its All-Star catcher.
Molina has been mentioned multiple times as a Most Valuable Player Award candidate during the 2013 season. While many Cardinals fans have known for a long time how dependable and irreplaceable Molina is behind the plate, it took his development as an offensive threat to draw the attention of the rest of the baseball world.
Molina has become a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the batting order for the St. Louis Cardinals, and replacing his level of production is not going to be easy by any means. Losing a high level of production from a player like Molina leaves the Cardinals with a huge hole in their lineup and no clear sign of how to fill that.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has never been one to use his backup catcher too early in a contest anyway, but Tony Cruz has been used in the occasional pinch-hitting role. The injury to Molina removes Cruz from that role and leaves Rob Johnson as the answer from the bench, making the bench just a little weaker than it already was.
It is said quite often around Cardinal Nation, "Thou shall not run on Yadi." Most teams tend to play an overly conservative running game when Molina is behind the plate. Runners don't steal and don't stray far from their base for fear of a snap-throw pickoff.
Teams will be aggressive on the basepaths for the immediate future until they get a better feel for the style of play that Tony Cruz and Rob Johnson will bring to the table. If they fail to keep the runners in check, a lot of pressure will be put on the pitching staff.
The Pitching Staff
Speaking of the pitching staff, the work that Yadier Molina does to prepare for the game makes their lives and stress levels very manageable. Multiple pitchers, most notably closer Edward Mujica and rookie starter Shelby Miller, have said numerous times this year that their success starts with not "shaking off" Yadi's signals. Throwing exactly what he calls for has been a game plan that has allowed the staff to focus on the mechanics of the pitch and not over-think the situation.
Will pitchers find that same level of confidence in Cruz or Johnson behind the plate for the next few weeks? Seeing how it impacts Miller specifically will bring a lot of light to the impact Molina has on this team.
Exposing the weaknesses
Molina's bat will be missed in the lineup for the production value it brings, but it also exposes more weaknesses in the order.
When Molina first arrived, it was said that he could hit .200 as long as he played at a high level defensively. That strategy works fine when working with one or two players, but the Cardinals have identified a few spots on the field that they value defense over offense already. With the struggles of Pete Kozma and Jon Jay, adding a weak-hitting, defense-minded catcher places even more pressure on the other five starters to produce.
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