September 30, 2016

Here’s the thing: Cardinals prepare for Postseason play

Here is a positive for the Cardinals: they have made it to the postseason. That is about it.

With the regular season about to end, the Cardinals are anything but a lock to make it to the World Series. The Birds on the Bat are currently in a fight with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the Central Division lead.

The Pirates trail the Cards by four games with five games left to play. Two of those games are part of a potential “must win” series with the Bucs in Pittsburgh.

Winning the division has to be a first priority. The Cardinals want to avoid playing in the Wild Card play-in game against the Cubs and probable starter, Jake Arrieta.

In Arrieta’s last 11 starts, his earned run average (ERA) is 0.44, an MLB record.

Either way, if the Cardinals win the Central Division, they still have to play the winner between the Pirates and Cubs.

The Cardinals are 11-8 against the Cubs in the regular season but have lost four of the last six. They are 9-8 against the Pirates; 3-5 at Pittsburgh.

Team questions

For a 100-win team, the Cardinals have several question marks.

Carlos Martinez was lost for the rest of the year with shoulder tightness, taking away one of the most consistent (and most dominant) pitchers in the rotation.

Yadier Molina tore a thumb ligament on his glove-side hand and is unavailable until the postseason.

Matt Holliday is playing on one leg while recovering from a lingering quad injury that has landed him on the disabled list multiple times throughout the season.

Holliday’s injury leaves the Cardinals playing with potentially two outfielders. On multiple occasions in the series against the Brewers, Tommy Pham constantly had to shadow toward left field to compensate for Holliday’s lack of range. Several routine fly balls to the left fielder, Holliday, were challenging ranging catches for the center fielder.

And maybe the biggest question of all: will Adam Wainwright play?

The roster layout

Even with all the questions, head coach Mike Matheny has plenty of choices for the 25-man playoff roster.

The Cardinals have five outfielders for three positions. Jason Heyward is a lock in right field. Matt Holliday and Stephen Piscotty are looking for playing time in left, along with Grichuk who can also play center field with Pham.

Potentially, four of these players can play. With Piscotty learning first base throughout the season, he is an option for Matheny to move Mark Reynolds to the bench as an off-the-bench power hitter.

Matt Adams is another likely playoff roster candidate at first base and a possible designated hitter (DH) in the World Series if he can power through the end of the year.

The choice between keeping Pete Kozma or Greg Garcia is another question weighing on Mathey’s mind. Kozma has Postseason experience to go along with being the third string catcher. With Molina’s health in question, having a third option after Tony Cruz should be considered. On the other hand, Garcia has had the most success this season as a pinch hitter. Both players are relatively equal in the field, but Garcia’s ability to come off the bench should be a priority, since their main role on the Postseason roster would be as pinch hitters.

The potential Postseason roster has 13 hitters and 12 pitchers:

Hitters: Yadier Molina, Tony Cruz, Mark Reynolds, Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, Jhonny Peralta, Greg Garcia, Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday, Stephen Piscotty, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk and Jason Heyward.

Pitchers: Michael Wacha, John Lackey, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Adam Wainwright, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness, Jonathan Broxton, Tyler Lyons, Steve Cishek and Matt Belisle.

Postseason on the horizon

The Cardinals’ strength throughout the season -their pitching- has looked more pedestrian the second half of the season, going to a 3.17 ERA from a 2.71.

The Cardinals’ ace, Michael Wacha, has shown the greatest decline near the end of the season, bringing fatigue into question. In Wacha’s last four starts, he has a 6.15 ERA. 

Statistics provided by baseballreference.com.

“Pitching wins championships” has been the mantra of many World Series teams. Last year, the Royals and Giants both relied on their pitching. The Royals relied on their bullpen, and the Giants relied on Madison Bumgarner.

For the Cardinals to compete for a championship, they will ride their pitching to the end. For that, they will need to get back to pitching like they did in the first half of the season. 

‘Here’s the Thing’ is an issuely column about St. Louis sports with its counterpart show on The Galaxy Radio. The show is hosted by Kevin Smith and Jacob Claspille Thursdays, 4-5 p.m.

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