The St. Louis Cardinals entered Monday 7½ games out in the NL Central, and 3½ games behind the Braves for the second Wild Card spot. About 80 percent of the AL East is in a similar spot, and most of the baseball world can't agree if those teams are buyers or sellers. But for some reason it's been assumed the Cardinals are buyers. It's even gotten to this point:
The Cardinals have never been more open to dealing their onetime top prospect, Shelby Miller.
The last time we saw Miller's name on MLB Trade Rumors, he was "untouchable". Back when there was a mystery team after Cliff Lee -- not that time, and not that time, but the other time -- Miller was supposed to be the bait. But the 21-year-old is having a down season. The Cardinals will at least consider moving him in the right deal.
Which brings us to the weird trade deadline of the Cardinals. They aren't exactly close enough to a playoff spot to go nuts with rentals and short-term players. But it feels like they need something.
It can't be a corner outfielder or infielder. The Cards are lousy with those. It's good to be lousy with them. And the Cards can't even find a way to play Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, David Freese, Allen Craig, and Lance Berkman at the same time. The Pirates have been hitting Casey McGehee fifth and playing him at first. They'd love to have the Cardinals' problem.
It can't be a middle infielder. They're doing fine. Rafael Furcal is doing well enough. He's also tied for the team lead in plate appearances, which should probably be a bigger story than Mike Trout. Daniel Descalso isn't exactly irreplaceable, but he's been somewhat mediocre, which isn't something you can say about most of the available second basemen, and Skip Schumaker has been quite good in his limited time.
Obviously wouldn't be a catcher. And, again, they're lousy with outfielders.
The rotation? Possibly, but Joe Kelly has been pretty good filling in for Jaime Garcia, and Garcia is already on a rehab assignment. He'll be back soon. The only pitcher in the rotation with a below-average ERA is Adam Wainwright, and you know the Cardinals aren't replacing him. The upside is just too great.
The bullpen can use another arm.
I'm not sure if any team other than the Yankees or Rangers went into the deadline with fewer holes to patch. And yet: 7½ games out in the NL Central, and 3½ games behind the Braves for the second Wild Card spot.
Which is all to note that the trade deadline is a great time to sit back and marvel at the horrific, frustrating, successful, not-successful-enough season of the St. Louis Cardinals. Take a gander at their Baseball Reference page. Look for the obvious holes. The bullpen can use another arm, alright. It's a team good enough to have one of the best run differentials in baseball. And yet …
Like so many teams on the fringes of the playoff race, the Cardinals are caught in the middle. Except unlike those other teams, the Cardinals don't have a lot of needs. That's because they should be better. Much, much better. I'm not sure what to tell you, Cardinals fans. If there were some sort of inspirational piece of history I could comfort you with -- something that'd make you feel like there's still some hope in the face of long odds -- I'd pass it along here.
As is, don't be surprised if the Cardinals don't do a thing at the deadline. Not because they think they're out of the race. Because they don't need to. But if they don't need to, why would they be on the fringes of the race? It doesn't comfort Cardinals fans to think of it, but the Cardinals are easily the deadline's weirdest team.