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Ben Frederickson is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. You can follow him on Twitter (Ben_Fred), Instagram (benfredpd) and Facebook (BenFredPD).

Diamondbacks 4, Cardinals 2

Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina, left, and outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who are both on the injured list, talk in a game on Friday, July 12, 2019, against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

The Cardinals started the second half of their season sort of like they started the first.

They owned as many wins as losses. Their division remained wide open for the taking. So, where was the buzz?

Other than center fielder Harrison Bader’s new haircut, there wasn’t much.

A nonexistent list of areas the Cardinals plan to improve before baseball’s July 31 trade deadline was lapped by a long line of injury updates.

Hearing manager Mike Shildt note the status of each injured Redbird before the team’s 4-2 loss Friday to the Diamondbacks reminded us a .500 team that is supposed to spend the two-plus weeks before the trade deadline proving it deserves to be treated like a contender probably exited the All-Star break in worse shape than it entered it.

The Cubs and Brewers — and, if we are doing this, the Pirates and the Reds — are big enough threats to hand the Cardinals their longest stretch of postseasons missed since the drought from 1988-1995.

And now, on top of the crammed standings, an injury bug is feeding.

Adam Wainwright, one of the most reliable starters in an up-and-down rotation, was scratched before Friday night’s game because of back spasms. The team is optimistic this won’t be much of a setback. (We’ve heard that before.)

Left fielder Marcell Ozuna, the only regular in the lineup who outperformed his career averages in the first half, has not passed the strength test required to get back into the batter’s box, and it does not sound like he’s all that close.

The thumb strain catcher Yadier Molina played through until he could not is expected to sideline him for about three more weeks.

The news on Alex Reyes, Austin Gomber and Jedd Gyorko did not scream optimism.

If the back strain that gripped Matt Carpenter before the All-Star break is a non-issue after it, his return still will be balanced by the absence of Molina and Ozuna.

And if Carpenter’s dreadful first half follows him into the second, and Shildt continues to plug him into the lineup, then a grim situation could turn untenable.

When right, Carpenter and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt can carry even a healing team. That is needed now more than ever before. And perhaps that’s what the front office has to see before deciding its deadline direction. But neither player looked right very often in the first half. Both looked like examples of why baseball is turning its back on players who are older than 30.

Decent teams can overcome one career-worst season from a key hitter. Two is a tall order. Especially when the one hitter who has picked up the slack — Ozuna — is out because of an injury that could drain his power once he returns.

See the rub?

The Cardinals played .500 ball during the 88 games before the break. Not good enough, everyone including the Cardinals agreed. Yet considering its current circumstances, this current edition of the Cardinals playing .500 ball until the deadline when 11 of those 18 games are played against the Pirates and the Reds might actually be an accomplishment.

The Mets are planning to sell, we learned Friday. The Yankees are shopping for starting pitching. The Cardinals? They are trying to figure out what to do.

A team that started with a tagline of “2019 matters” now wants to see which direction an injury-depleted team trends — and this comes after the club declined to make significant addition(s) from the outside while a long list of Cardinals had their wings clipped by under-performance and injury.

The front office was confident enough to stiff-arm the idea of reinforcements from outside when Carlos Martinez’s inability to stay healthy bounced him from the rotation, when Alex Reyes’ season spiraled, when Jordan Hicks got hurt. But now the Cardinals are not confident they should treat this team like a contender? And it’s on this thinned team to change minds?

The stances don’t mesh.

Shildt’s Cardinals have good characteristics. Their defense is sharp. Their baserunning is strong. They don’t kill themselves with mistakes. They’re not sloppy. They are missing something. Runs, mostly. And they got just four hits Friday.

That some of this team’s problems are hard to fix does not eliminate their existence. The rotation has under-performed. The lineup lacks power in a season soaked with it. The outfield, even with Ozuna, is one of the National League’s most meager at the plate.

It’s asking a lot of the team that started Friday to force the front office toward win-now mode. That was supposed to be the season’s theme, not a July hurdle.

Daniel Ponce de Leon seems up to the challenge as he strengthened his case for the rotation. Matt Wieters, Tommy Edman and Tyler O’Neill are not short on hunger. Time will tell on talent.

It’s important to remember that now is the time for mixed messages. Teams are negotiating. The Cardinals are notorious for holding their cards close.

A reckoning approaches.

Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said his team was built to win the Central. The organization’s actions since have not echoed that goal. The fast-approaching deadline is the easiest time to make that kind of statement.

If one does not come, fans will be owed an explanation on why — and more importantly when — the goal was truly surrendered.

Gordo's midseason grades for position players

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