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As Yadier Molina Defies Age, the Cardinals Try to Defy the Cubs

The whacked-out NL Central gets nuttier by the day.

When all of the ballpark lights were dimmed last Thursday, the first-place Cubs had a five-game lead over the Cardinals and the Brewers with 22 games remaining. Nothing was guaranteed, of course. But the Cubs appeared to be safely headed for home.

And then the Brewers went to Chicago, occupied Wrigley Field, and swept three games from the Cubs. This, coming after the Crew had been chased out of Cincinnati by the Reds, who won all three games at The Great American Ball Park.

To the south, the Cardinals were busy smacking the Pirates around for three consecutive wins at Busch Stadium.

And just like that …

The Cubs’ protective layer above the Cards and Brewers had evaporated down to two games.

Amid the chaos, the Cardinals found the calm center in the presence of catcher Yadier Molina.

Extending his second-half upsurge, Molina left the Pirates in smithereens by splashing five hits in 11 at-bats, launching two cannonball homers, and relentlessly delivering seven runs batted in.

This goes against the norm. Catchers are not indestructible. They should not be getting stronger and  more energized as the innings pile up. An aging catcher-warrior should be tucked into his armor, fending off the barrage of foul tips and errant fastballs that smash into his knees … just trying to hang in for a while longer.

Not this catcher.

Not this special man.

Molina continues to defy age, damage and the anticipated steep decline.

And because of his recharged offensive performance and resolute leadership in guiding a remodeled pitching staff, the Cardinals are trying like hell to defy the Cubs and predictions of doom.

At the age of 35, and with 15,041 innings of big-league catching — postseason included — pounding his physical being, Molina should be hunched over and creaky … sore in so many spots that you’d have to dunk him in an ice bath to cover everything. He should be 205 pounds of bruises and mangled claws.

Instead, Molina is going the other way.

He’s getting better instead of wilting. He refuses to act his age. His determination is bottomless. His toughness is indomitable. He’s 35 going on 25.

In the first half of the season, Molina slugged .411 with a .714 OPS. He homered every 31.3 at-bats. His park-adjusted runs created (wRC+) came in at 18 percent below league average. He ranked 21st among MLB catchers with 0.7 WAR. He cut down base stealers at a rate of 30 percent.

But since the All-Star break, Molina has a .497 slugging percentage with an .834 OPS. His park-adjusted offense is 17 percent above league average. He’s homered every 22.3 at-bats. And he leads starting NL catchers with 1.4 WAR, second in the majors to the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez (2.0). Molina’s second-half caught-stealing rate is just under 42 percent.

And this across-the-board performance upturn is happening as Molina leads all MLB catchers in games started (121) and innings (1,040) this season. For the year, Molina leads NL catchers with 72 RBIs, leads with 57 runs scored, is second in extra-base hits, ranks third with 17 homers, and is fourth in slugging and OPS. Among NL catchers that have started at least 100 games, Molina has the best throw-out rate at 35.5 percent.

What’s the elixir?

Nothing magical.

It’s just the classic Molina ethos.

“Hard work,”  Molina said. “Competing hard. Doing what I can to help my team.”

A while back, when I asked Molina to explain the key to his success, he talked about honoring his craft by putting in the work that gives him an edge … like watching video of opposing hitters on his iPad as he leaned back in bed at home after a long night of catching.

“I don’t sleep that well, so whenever I’m in bed I like to study there too if I have to,” Molina said. “It’s all about the work. There are no shortcuts. I care. I care about winning. I care about my pitchers. I care about my team. So if I care, I need to work. So that means go to the video, and study, and be prepared.”

But he should be catching less, right? We’ve been saying that for a long time. But since the start of the 2015 season, Molina has started 394 games behind the plate … 29 more than any other MLB catcher. And he’s logged another 3,408 innings … 262 more than any catcher.

Despite all of this hard labor at baseball’s most physically debilitating position, Molina will challenge his personal best for 80 RBIs in a season (2013.) With 19 games remaining, he’s within range of his best home-run season, 22 back in 2012. If his current slugging percentage holds, it will be Molina’s finest SLG since 2013.

And then there’s Molina’s famous baseball intellect.

Basically he’s the Cardinals’ brain.

Which goes a long way in explaining why the Cardinals’ have the third-lowest ERA (3.61) in the majors since Molina took over as the starting catcher in 2005. With Molina as their catcher the Cardinals have the NL’s best regular-season winning percentage (.551) and lead the majors in postseason wins.

The young and talented Carson Kelly will be this team’s catcher one day … but he’s on hold for now. Since his promotion on July 21, Kelly has started only seven games. Molina had started 84 percent of the Cardinals’ games before Kelly was added as the No. 2 catcher. And since Kelly’s arrival in St. Louis some 48 games ago … you probably know where I am going with this …

Molina has started 85.4 percent of the time.

Molina is playing  more  … not less.

The Molina body hasn’t given in.

The indefatigable Molina spirit won’t allow that to happen.

Don’t call Molina a golden oldie.

He isn’t old.  He’s just golden.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: As the Cardinals Enter the Stretch Run, Let’s Look at Their Chances

  • rightthinker4

    Can’t deny that Molina is having a fantastic year, and the Cardinals need him to if they want to get into the tournament. He’s a great team leader, and there is no doubt Carson Kelly is learning valuable knowledge being around Molina every day.

    However, we all know that at age 35, and catching as much as he does, Molina’s abilities will succumb to age. It happens and has happened to the very greatest of players. With Molina signed through 2020, how much playing time will Kelly get? If Molina wants to play, Matheny won’t say no, even if it hurts the team. Matheny’s managing history tells us that. Matheny only changes when forced to, by the GM taking away his favorites.

    That said, let’s enjoy the current Yadi Molina, and marvel at how good he is. Definitely a hall of famer!

  • Terry Ryno

    They pissed Molina off, 1st by not giving him the Gold Glove last year and then by bringing up Carson. Molina won’t quit, his body may fail but his spirit will not. At least not when he’s pissed off. Hope he stays that way for another year or so.

  • JeremyR

    He really needs to walk more

    • Chris Moeller

      Absolutely. Combine that with his speed he could hit leadoff.

      • James Berry

        BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  • James Berry

    My fear is the FO will see this resurgence and deem Kelly expendable.

  • ken

    that’s true. spoiled brats certainly DON’T act their age, do they?

  • geoff

    OOPS!!! I made a comment contradicting Bernie and calling him out for his hate Matheny narrative….they took it down. I guess this is like socialist news….you can say anything hateful and untrue, as long as it goes along with their narrative.

    • Kkkkathmandubirdsview

      I would like to read what you wrote. Stop the hate! On another note, if Yadi continues hitting like this and the Cardinals make the playoffs, Yadi should definitely be the most valuable Cardinal player, if not league MVP.

      • geoff

        He is really having a great finish .This team has ridden on Pham most of the year. DeJong solidified the infield. Lance Lynn is around 200 innings coming TJ surgery all pale by comparison to Molina.

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    Molina has always played like the heart and soul of this team. It should not now be surprising when he ups his game during a critical period of the schedule.

  • John W

    He should get his GG back this year the way he has been playing, it’s a shame that when his contract was signed 80% of the commenters in the StL pages were screaming for him to be let go or walk after this season..
    So glad those people are not in charge !