ST. LOUIS -- Two of the heavyweights of the National League meet on Sunday Night Baseball, when the Los Angeles Dodgers visit the St. Louis Cardinals, but neither team is working at full strength -- far from it. The Dodgers' pitching rotation is in tatters, and the Cardinals' infield looks nothing like it did a month ago.
It's all about surviving for both teams, which remain squarely in the playoff hunt, until they get some of their key players back. Let's do a comparison and decide who is hurting more at each position group. Don't miss your chance to vote on each team's injury situation below.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Injuries have the Dodgers down to four active starters, but they are hanging in there since Clayton Kershaw's back injury nearly a month ago. Brandon McCarthy has been solid since he came off the DL, and Kenta Maeda has been steady all year. But surviving much longer without Kershaw will be tough. Dodgers starters entered this series in St. Louis with a .246 opponents' batting average, third in the NL, since Kershaw most recently appeared in a game.
St. Louis Cardinals: Some Cardinals fans have taken to calling it the Immaculate Rotation. It will be no more on Sunday. The Cardinals had to scramble for a spot starter when their Tuesday night game with the San Diego Padres was rained out, forcing a Wednesday doubleheader. They came up with reliever Tyler Lyons, who will be just the sixth pitcher to start a game for the Cardinals this season. The Cardinals were the last team to have used just five starters this season. The Chicago Cubs shared the distinction until they tapped Adam Warren on July 6.
The Cardinals lost starter Lance Lynn to Tommy John surgery in the offseason, but they had time to react and added free-agent right-hander Mike Leake on a five-year, $80 million deal. Otherwise, they have avoided any injuries to their rotation, which has improved as the season has gone on.
Dodgers: The latest setup man behind closer Kenley Jansen is lefty Adam Liberatore. It might seem that this group can't get its bearings, but the Dodgers' bullpen is a strength of the team and one of the biggest reasons the club has been able to stay afloat without Kershaw. Liberatore has recorded 28 consecutive scoreless appearances, and as of Friday, the Dodgers' 2.99 bullpen ERA was second in baseball.
Cardinals: The Cardinals thought they would have both Jordan Walden and Mitch Harris available to them this spring, but neither has thrown a pitch this season. Harris underwent elbow surgery, and Walden remains sidelined with a shoulder injury that could end his career. Otherwise, the Cardinals' bullpen has been relatively stout. Kevin Siegrist missed time over the All-Star break because of mononucleosis, but he is back and pitching as well as any Cardinals reliever.
Dodgers: Rookie shortstop Corey Seager has carried the Dodgers offensively as if he were a veteran, and he is playing better-than-expected defense as well. Third baseman Justin Turner started slowly after offseason knee surgery but has been a monster lately. Heading into play Friday, his 13 home runs since June 10 led the NL, as did his 35 RBIs. Second baseman Chase Utley has turned back the clock with steady play at second base and has been the Dodgers' primary leadoff man, a spot he did not occupy regularly until this season. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez has traded spurts of key production with some deep slumps.
Cardinals: The Cardinals' infield has been in constant flux this season. Part of that is due to the meteoric rise of All-Star shortstop Aledmys Diaz, whose arrival forced position switches for Jhonny Peralta and Matt Carpenter. But lately it has been due to injuries. Carpenter (oblique strain), who might be the most underrated player in the game, and starting third baseman Peralta (left thumb strain) aren't expected back for weeks, which opens opportunities for players such as Jedd Gyorko, Kolten Wong and Greg Garcia. The Cardinals' most powerful left-handed hitter, Brandon Moss, who splits his time between first base and outfield, is out with an ankle injury for about another week. The Cardinals are treading water, but eventually they will feel the loss of their key infielders, especially Carpenter.
Dodgers: Expected to be the Dodgers' deepest position, the outfield has seen nothing but injuries, starting with Andre Ethier in spring training, when he broke his leg; he has yet to return. Carl Crawford was injured early and then released. Joc Pederson is just coming off the disabled list after a shoulder injury, and early rookie sensation Trayce Thompson started out hot, cooled considerably and then went to the DL with a bad back. Yasiel Puig has dealt with hamstring trouble.Scott Van Slyke lost a month to a bad back. The steadiest outfielder isn't even an outfielder. Howie Kendrick not only has been playing a steady left field but also extended his hit streak to 14 games Friday and has been one of the best hitters in baseball this month.
Cardinals: Underperformance from Randal Grichuk has been the larger issue, but Moss' lack of availability has opened the door for Tommy Pham, who missed a month earlier with an injury similar to Carpenter's. Moss is a better outfielder than you might expect, given his lack of speed, but the Cardinals miss his bat a lot more than they miss his glove. Thanks to steady production from Stephen Piscotty and adequate power from Matt Holliday, the Cardinals have been in pretty good shape in the outfield.
Dodgers: Yasmani Grandal is finally starting to look healthy after offseason shoulder surgery. In July, he has reached base safely in 13 of the 15 games in which he has played. At the start of the series, his 13 home runs were tied for the most by a big league catcher and he was seventh in slugging percentage, at .434. Grandal's productive play has cut into the playing time of A.J. Ellis, who has caught 11 Kershaw starts this season but only 26 by all other starters combined.
Cardinals: The Cardinals thought they had figured out a way to get Yadier Molina more rest when they signed veteran backup Brayan Pena to a two-year, $5 million deal over the winter. It hasn't worked out as planned. Pena injured his knee slipping on a wet dugout step in spring training and has been limited to four games played. As a consequence, Molina has started 83 of the Cardinals' 96 games, an absurd total for a catcher in today's game. Pena remains in Florida and is considered weeks away from returning, but it's hard to imagine manager Mike Matheny suddenly trusting journeyman minor leaguer Alberto Rosario to spell Molina on a regular basis.
Dodgers: By carrying eight relievers for most of the season, the Dodgers' bench has been short but busy because of the injuries all over the roster. Thompson found his way off the bench to start for a stretch that lasted more than a month. Van Slyke is starting to get more time now. Infielder Chris Taylor has delivered in limited playing time since being acquired in a trade with the Seattle Mariners. Because there are fewer bodies on the Dodgers' bench, all reserves have defensive versatility. Kendrick and Van Slyke can play both infield and outfield. New arrival Austin Barnes can catch and has played some second base too.
Cardinals: The Cardinals had one of the deepest, most powerful benches in baseball when their regulars were healthy. Now, with Garcia, Gyorko and Matt Adams starting most nights, Matheny has few palatable options at his disposal to pinch hit or play defense late. Jeremy Hazelbaker, Grichuk and Pham got tickets out of Triple-A because of the injuries, but only Pham has given the Cardinals much production. The power has disappeared from Matheny's bench, which means his late-game decisions often don't look as smart. Moss and Adams have proven to be devastating pinch hitters this season, but neither is available for that role at the moment.