Subscribe for $3 for three months

Stop us if you've heard this before, but here goes: The Cardinals need another reliable starting pitcher.

Long-time rotation fixture Michael Wacha pitched his way into the bullpen during the final year of his contract. Promising Daniel Ponce de Leon took his place, but the Pittsburgh Pirates pounded him Wednesday afternoon.

Ponce de Leon allowed four runs on eight hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings Wednesday afternoon in broiling Busch Stadium, forcing the Cardinals to roar back for their 6-5 victory.

Of course, he will get more opportunities. Ponce de Leon pitched well previously this season, posting a 1.99 ERA in four starts and three relief appearances.

But the Cardinals can't bank on him quite yet, as the Pirates illustrated.

Carlos Martinez would love to start again, but for now he is the closer. He banked another save, barely, Wednesday afternoon. Elite prospect Alex Reyes was supposed to be an option, but various injuries derailed his comeback bid.

The same goes for lefty Austin Gomber, who pitched well in eight starts for Triple-A Memphis (4-0, 2.98 ERA) before landing on the injured list.

Ponce de Leon could make another start or two while Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak explores potential deals as the July 31 trade deadline closes in. There are many established starting pitchers on the market, including Madison Bumgarner, Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer, Mathew Boyd and Zach Wheeler.

Some of those pitchers have been banged up this season and some will command an extreme trade price. But right now most experts believe the Cardinals will add a starter while pushing to get back into postseason play.

At the moment, the other four spots in their rotation look OK. Jack Flaherty worked seven innings and allowed just one run in his last two starts, looking very much like a No.1 starter. Fellow youngster Dakota Hudson has allowed three runs or fewer in 10 of his last 11 starts.

Miles Mikolas has met the quality start metric three times his last five outings. He allowed eight earned runs in 30 innings during that span while cutting nearly 70 points off of his earned-run average.

Adam Wainwright has delivered three straight quality starts while allowing just four runs and striking out 22 batters in 18 2/3 innings during that span. He threw seven shutout innings in Sunday's victory over Arizona.

But the fifth spot, well, that's been a problem. Wacha has a 5.54 ERA in 14 starts plus two relief appearances this season. His time in this organization appears to be coming to a close.

In two fill-in starts, youngster Genesis Cabrera allowed nine runs (six earned) on 13 hits and five walks. Clearly he wasn't ready to jump up to the majors.

TALKIN' BASEBALL

Here is what folks are writing about Our National Pastime:

Matt Snyder, CBSSports.com: "The Cardinals traded for Paul Goldschmidt this past offseason and extended him. That's not the move of a seller and the Cardinals haven't been a seller in some time. And while they've hovered around .500 for the past few months, they are within striking distance of first place and sitting in playoff position right now. That's a buyer. Welcome to the competitive (or mediocre) National League! In looking around the roster, the sense I get is that it's littered with players who should be playing better, such as Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong after his big start, Jose Martinez at the plate, Harrison Bader and possibly in his age-related-decline Matt Carpenter. They aren't really great anywhere, but they aren't really terrible anywhere. They could use a third base upgrade, but likely will hope Carpenter turns things around. Aside from that, it's all about pitching, whether rotation help or a reliever or two."

Bob Nightengale, USA Today: "The Cubs already spent $42 million on closer Craig Kimbrel, but would love to find an impact bat – ideally a leadoff or power hitter – and another pitcher, but their thin farm system makes it virtually impossible to pull off any blockbusters. The Red Sox are near the highest luxury tax threshold of $246 million after acquiring starter Andrew Cashner from Baltimore, but if they can grab a late-inning reliever who’ll get them back to the playoffs, they’ll make the move, (general manager Dave) Dombrowski says, money be damned. The Astros don’t plan on shelling out the money it will take to keep Gerrit Cole, who’ll be the top free-agent pitcher this winter, so they need to win now, and are seeking a starter and a reliever. The Cardinals are experiencing their longest playoff drought in 20 years, and the heat is starting to mount on the front office. They must come up with a front-line starter, with Bumgarner appearing to be a perfect fit, if they’re going to have a chance to catch the Cubs."

Michael Shapiro, SI.com: "Bumgarner has justified his lofty trade value of late as the Giants mull offers for the former World Series MVP. A few first-half outings indicated a possible dip in performance for the 29-year-old lefty, with the most disappointing start coming in a ten-hit, six-run loss to the Dodgers on June 20. Bumgarner has been cruising since.  MadBum sports a 1.80 ERA in his last four starts, with just four earned runs and 28 strikeouts in 20 innings. Opponents are slugging just .387 against Bumgarner since June 25. His 9.33 K/9 is his best mark since 2016. After a pair of injury-plagued seasons, Bumgarner appears ready for a September pennant race."

Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports: "Even a week ago the prospect of Felipe Vazquez leaving the Pirates wasn't all that great. It still might not be, even as the Pirates stumble through July. As Buster Olney, there are good and bad reasons for the Pirates to deal Vazquez. The good, of course, is the enormous return they'd receive for him. Vazquez has been exceptionally consistent as the Pirates' closer the past three seasons, sits 98 mph with his fastball, has a legitimate four-pitch mix, is death on right-handed hitters (and historically the same on lefties) and agreed to one of the most team-friendly contracts in baseball last year. He'll make only $5.25 million next year, $7.25 million in 2021 and has a pair of club options at $10 million apiece that can be exercised one at a time. The Pirates could look at the NL Central landscape, see the Cubs' window closing, the Brewers and Cardinals stagnating and the Reds still with holes, and reasonably believe they could contend for division titles over the course of that deal. They also could say that while acknowledging that a one-inning relief pitcher who provides massive return is baseball's version of a gift horse."

MEGAPHONE

"He's more of an animal on the mound. The grunting there in the sixth, reaching back when he needs it, being smart -- he's got confidence in his fastball. It's fun to play behind."

• Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, on teammate Yu Darvish's pitching in a 5-2 victory over the Reds.


50 greatest Cardinals pitchers

Cardinals Update e-newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.