ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The final 23 games for the St. Louis Cardinals will most likely include earning a guaranteed playoff spot, then a 3rd straight National League Central Division crown and finally securing home-field advantage. If the Cardinals stay the course, that is. But one last thing almost certain to happen is the expanded September roster will drop back down to 25 men. And here are the toughest decisions the Cardinals will have to make concerning its playoff roster.
1) Who is the fourth starter? Not just Mike Matheny but every playoff manager deals with this question, to slice a five-man rotation, to four. St. Louis’ situation looks to be between Lance Lynn (11-9) and Carlos Martinez (13-7). On the surface Martinez seems the most likely to take a bullpen role since that has been his role in the last two postseasons. He has never started in the postseason, but has a 1.020 WHIP in 16 and two-thirds innings. Lynn hasn’t pitched from the bullpen since the 2012 NLDS, in that series he allowed four runs, only three earned, in three and a third innings.
2) Who is the No. 1 starter? The void left by Adam Wainwright’s left achilles tendon injury hasn’t been a weakness for St. Louis, in fact, starting pitching has still been the team’s strength. If the possible comeback player of the year, Jamie Garcia, can earn two more wins in his last four starts of the regular season, the Cards will have four double digit win pitchers for the first time since 2012. Michael Wacha (15-5), who has the ninth best ERA and is fifth in wins in the NL, is the top starter on paper. But if tragedy strikes and the Cards lose their lead in the division, who starts in the Wildcard one-game playoff? It could be Garcia with his sub-one WHIP. Maybe John Lackey with seven years of postseason experience, the most of any starter. Maybe Matheny would trust any one of the guys and we’ll just wait and see who’s turn it is that day.
3) Are both Brandon Moss and Mark Reynolds necessary? When the Cardinals first traded for Moss at the deadline it seemed like overkill. The roster already had its multi-purpose, left-handed, pinch-hitter in Reynolds. Both are all-or-nothing type hitters who struck out at least 130 times in each of the last three seasons, but also hit between 15 and 30 home runs each year. Then again the only thing better than one guy who can hit a bomb off the bench late in a playoff game, is two guys who can swing a big bat. The Cardinals’ injury problems with outfielders Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk, and first baseman Matt Adams could keep both Reynolds and Moss around in October.
4) How will you get Stephen Piscotty at-bats? The 24-year-old was St. Louis’ best hitter through August batting .333, slugging .366 and an OPS of .947 – all team highs last month. In September he leads the team with six RBI in their first eight games. Matheny just started a centerfielder, Randal Grichuk, who couldn’t throw a baseball, but can hit. By that logic he cannot leave the team’s best hitter for possibly the last two months of the starting playoff lineup. But where will he play? Both Holliday and Matt Adams are expected to return soon. Maybe Holliday’s ankle or Adam’s quad to continue to nag and Piscotty fills in for either one of them. But I don’t see Matheny complaining if they are all 100 percent come October.
5) Who earns the last two bullpen spots? Let’s say the bullpen shoe-ins are the odd starter out plus Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Villanueva, Seth Maness and Randy Choate. Two bullpen spots will most likely remain. The battle is between four right handers: Steve Cishek, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Belisle and Mitch Harris. The only one of the four to throw more than two innings in the playoffs is the former closer, Broxton. The dark horse in the competition is Harris who pitched in his first Major League game in April, but in his last 10 appearances has thrown eight and two-thirds of scoreless baseball. Belisle hasn’t played since June due to inflammation in his throwing elbow, but is expected back soon. Before the injury he had an even three ERA with 24 K’s in 30 innings of work. At the trade deadline the cardinals added bullpen strength with Broxton and another former closer, Cishek, who was the ninth inning man in Miami to start the season but moved to a set-up role by July. Cishek had his best month of the season in August, with a sub-one ERA in 13 innings.
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