Cardinals lose Yadier Molina to oblique injury, but don’t count them out of NLCS

October 14, 2014 Posted by admin

Yadier Molina the unquestioned leader of the Cardinals, is out of the NLCS with an oblique injury.Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports Yadier Molina the unquestioned leader of the Cardinals, is out of the NLCS with an oblique injury.

SAN FRANCISCO — For years it has been said that no player in baseball means more to his team than Yadier Molina means to the Cardinals. So to essentially remove him now, because of an oblique injury, from this evenly matched NLCS seemingly creates a significant advantage for the Giants. Throw in the fact that ace Adam Wainwright has been compromised in this post-season by a tender elbow, while closer Trevor Rosenthal is making every ninth inning an adventure lately, and the Cardinals sure do look to be in big trouble.

And yet somehow you can’t help thinking that only makes them more dangerous. Maybe that’s an overreaction to years of spending Octobers in St. Louis, trying to figure out what makes the Cardinals so clutch, but it’s one you hear echoed around baseball. As one NL executive said on Monday, “Obviously it’s not luck that they’re in the postseason every year. They’re as tough-minded a ballclub as there is and you just can’t overestimate what that means at this time of year.

“Losing Molina is a huge blow, but it’s a short series and if anyone can overcome it, it’s them.”

We’ll see. It makes this series, which is tied at 1-1, a bit more intriguing because little things matter between these teams. Much like the Cardinals, in fact, the Giants don’t wow anyone with their talent, but they scrap and claw and find ways to win with a similar October-tested resolve.

With that in mind, any edge the Redbirds lose without Molina might be even more magnified against a team like the Giants. That may also explain why Cardinals manager Mike Matheny did his best on Monday to make it sound as if Molina could still be a factor in the series. Matheny acknowledged that his catcher almost certainly won’t be able to swing a bat the rest of this series but said Molina could be a late-inning defensive replacement as soon as Tuesday in Game 3.

This was after Molina had tested the injury during a workout, surprising the Cards with his ability to catch and throw.

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“I didn’t think there was any possibility,’’ Matheny said. “Having had that injury myself, knowing how hard it was just to throw. But he was throwing the ball with some velocity.

“We’ll take him in any capacity, even if it’s just a cheerleader on the bench. But to have him active and as a weapon to be able to be brought in late in the game, that is very valuable to us.’’

It remains to be seen if Matheny actually will use Molina in such situations, since his mobility behind the plate could be an issue. For the moment, what’s significant is that the Cardinals aren’t replacing him on the roster — which would mean losing him for the World Series as well should the Cards advance, per MLB rules.

As it is, they’re fortunate they were carrying three catchers on their postseason roster, thinking A.J. Pierzynski could be used as a lefthanded pinch-hitter, or they surely would have had no choice but to replace Molina. Matheny didn’t downplay the potential loss of his catcher. “Part of being the kind of catcher that Yadi is,’’ he said, “some of the intangibles, it’s hard to put into metrics but the leadership, the insincts that he has … you have a multiple Gold Glove catcher but it’s not just about blocking balls and throwing out baserunners.

“It’s about leading a staff and it’s not necessarily something you can just duplicate.’’

Cardinals will miss the power Molina can provide. Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports Cardinals will miss the power Molina can provide. 

Matheny made a point of saying Tony Cruz had no chance at blocking the fastball Rosenthal threw “52 feet’’ in the ninth-inning of Game 2, yet it’s hard to believe Molina wouldn’t somehow have kept Matt Duffy from scoring from second base on the wild pitch — a play that tied the game at the time.

As for a more measurable effect, the Cardinals survived a 40-game period this season when Molina was out with a thumb injury, going 21-19. Matheny said his team took it as a challenge, in part because so much was made of Molina’s importance.

“I think that actually gave them a little spur,’’ said Matheny, “because that insults the rest of the guys in that room to say they’re not good enough to do it.’’

P erhaps, but the Cardinals’ ERA was 4.51 during that time, nearly a run higher than it was with Molina behind the plate.

So there’s no way around it: they’ll miss their acclaimed catcher — at a time when their pitching is vulnerable in key spots. Of course, in a post-season in which the Cardinals made Clayton Kershaw look ordinary and have seemed to pull dramatic home runs out of their hats upon demand, that might just mean they have the Giants right where they want them.

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