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St. Louis Cardinals vs Atlanta Braves

St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Marcell Ozuna (23) walks back to the dugout after striking out during a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves at Busch Stadium on Saturday, June 30, 2018, in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo by Ryan Michalesko,

An excessive heat warning issued this weekend encouraged the rescheduling of strenuous activities, so proceed with hypothetical baseball trades at your own risk.

Few tasks feel more laborious than trying to find quick solutions for these Cardinals.

The thrill of imagining Manny Machado at Busch Stadium’s hot corner wears off when it’s time to name an asking price. The stellar third baseman seems determined to continue masquerading as a shortstop, and why would he entertain the idea of an extension when such a fruitful free agency awaits after the season? Overpaying in prospects and watching Machado walk after not winning a championship would hurt for much longer than the half season the Cardinals would have him.

Just as taxing is attempting to talk yourself into the notion that Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas, whose June batting line read .205/.268/.341, could be the rental addition who sends the Cardinals over the top. He might re-sign. You might not want him for more than a half-season.

And then there is my personal fever dream, the image of Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado arriving in the summer’s dog days to refresh a frustrated fan base, reviving Busch like the blast of cool that follows the Coors Light train.

Did you hear Arenado has been venting to the media about growing tired of losing with the Rockies?

“I did see that,” Cardinals general manager Michael Girsch confirmed this weekend.


“That’s all you’re getting out of me,” Girsch added.

Fair enough, because the truth is the Cardinals’ puzzle remains too disorganized at this point to pretend there is one magic move.

Games like Saturday’s 11-4 loss to Atlanta suggest the opposite approach should not be ruled out.

An unflinching internal audit is needed before the Cardinals look outside for help.

The Cardinals have questions to answer before they buy answers.

Is it time to admit this offense needs help?

Add Saturday to the evidence file.

The Cardinals hit the season’s halfway point ranked in the National League’s bottom third in every meaningful statistic but home runs. The club’s .709 OPS sat 11th in the 15-team league. Its 4.26 runs per game ranked 11th. The Cardinals are dead last in doubles and triples and stolen-base percentage.

Even if you want to believe the club’s bottoming out in Milwaukee was a turning point, things don’t look much different now.

Between beating the Brewers last Saturday and Saturday’s first pitch against Atlanta, the Cardinals had averaged 4.67 runs per game (seventh in the NL during that span) and produced a .724 OPS (ninth) while scoring more than three runs just three times in six games. Twice, they plated one. Then the Braves thumped them 11-4, with the four runs coming in a meaningless ninth inning.

This is not a surge. It’s more of the same. Paul DeJong is a good player, but asking him to lift this lineup when he returns is asking an awful lot.

What becomes of the first-base dilemma?

Somewhat surprisingly, the Cardinals are still a net-positive in defensive runs saved (12 runs above average, per FanGraphs) despite leading the majors in errors.

But there is one rather significant area of concern. The team’s most reliable hitter remains its worst defender. Fielding Bible’s defensive runs saved scores Jose Martinez (six errors, six runs below average) as the 34th-worst defensive first baseman in baseball. Halfway through the season, every ball in the infield remains an error risk.

Can this rotation provide enough quality innings, or innings, period?

Miles Mikolas, who should be an All-Star, has emerged as the most reliable starter, and he was pitching in Japan last season. The Carlos Martinez mystery hair bobblehead distributed on Saturday had as many hairstyles (four) as Martinez has wins.

Michael Wacha is out until after the All-Star break, Adam Wainwright remains a question mark and Alex Reyes isn’t walking through that door.

That Jack Flaherty (16 career starts) conjures up more confidence than scuffling Luke Weaver (35) speaks to the current state of the staff. There are more options — Daniel Poncedeleon, Austin Gomber, Dakota Hudson in Memphis — but such little experience.

Which relievers can grab meaningful roles?

A conclusion must be reached before help can be acquired for a unit that entered Saturday with a 13-15 record and a 4.14 ERA. It does not help matters that Dominic Leone, Luke Gregerson, Matt Bowman and Tyler Lyons are still rehabbing or sidelined by injuries.

And then there’s the biggest question in the bunch.

Is this group, as constructed, worthy of significant additions?

The Cardinals’ perch in the standings continues to present a more compelling argument than their state of play.

They are hanging around, and that’s the theme in the National League.

While the American League giants have emerged, even the Giants are still in the NL mix.

In fact, the Giants now have more wins than the Cardinals.

Trades can certainly make the Cardinals better.

But on the day the season hit its halfway point, the puzzle lacked a lot more than one piece, and the Cardinals looked nothing like a postseason team.

Keep up with the latest Cardinals coverage from our award-winning team of reporters and columnists.