(BaseballStL) -- This is as big of a decision as Mike Matheny has ever had to make in his short managerial career. His roster at the outset of the season? Eh. GM John Mozeliak had a huge hand in that. When to hit and run in a random June game? Important, but nothing that will decide the fate of the season.
Deciding who gets the ball to start a potential wild card playoff game next week in Atlanta - should the Cardinals clinch - could very well directly correlate how far the Redbirds go in the postseason.
Should he make the wrong choice...and you could see the Cards lose to the Braves. Or even if they win...he needs to be set up reasonably well for the best-of-five divisional round against either the Nationals or the Reds starting a couple days later.
It's not an easy choice. And it's beyond critical he gets it right.
Your candidates are the usual suspects. Chris Carpenter (because he's Chris Carpenter), Adam Wainwright (because he's Adam Wainwright) and Kyle Lohse (because he's been the best pitcher on the team this season).
Do you side with history? That would mean Carpenter or Wainwright. Or do you side with momentum based on recent production? That would be Lohse. He is having a career year with a 2.77 ERA and a ridiculous 1.08 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched).
To me, it's a very hard, but simple answer. It's gotta be Wainwright.
And before we start getting into why he's the best choice...it's important to understand why the others may not be.
The first one is Carpenter. Look, no one has done more for this organization from a pitching standpoint than him. No one is going to scare him. He's as big of a big game pitcher as this franchise has.
But are you willing to stake your entire season - in one game - on someone who will have thrown fewer than 20 innings in the regular season? Are you willing to stake your entire season - in one game - that he'll be sharp enough to give the team a good chance to win?
It's too risky. He's a great pitcher whom you'd have no problem throwing in a best-of-something series later on. But for one game? A win or go home scenario? Sorry. There's not enough innings there to get in a groove where you feel confident he'll be sharp.
Next is Lohse. The Cards best starter this season.
It's my contention, and mine alone, that Lohse belongs in a playoff rotation based on his stuff and his performance. A one game playoff? A win or go home scenario? No. I don't believe his stuff is filthy enough to trust in that environment.
Take last year's playoffs for instance. In three starts, Lohse accumulated a 7.82 ERA. In 12 and two-thirds innings he allowed 18 hits, 12 runs and four home runs. I believe Lohse to be heavily reliant on his change up when he's in important situations. Especially the postseason. If you remember last year's start against the Phillies in the NLDS, Ryan Howard was sitting there just waiting for that change up to be thrown. He got it. He hammered it. That was the difference in the Phillies' 11-6 Game One victory.
Not to harp on the past too much...but it's there. And it has to be remembered.
That brings us to Wainwright. No, he hasn't been as sharp as you'd normally expect him to be. The man has surrendered 22 runs in his last five starts.
But what would you rather risk in a one game, do or die scenario? Risk whether your pitcher will have nasty enough stuff to be effective? Or that he'll be sharp?
Sharpness comes and goes. It's as flexible as the weather. You can on one day and cold the next. Stuff, however, does not change. And Adam Wainwright has flat out, downright nasty stuff. He can dominate a ballgame for you.
Lohse doesn't have that. So while you might feel a little better about Lohse having better location...you know that regardless he's not going to overpower the Braves. That's something only Wainwright can do.
If Waino doesn't have his good stuff, fine. Take him out after a couple innings and bring in Lohse or Lance Lynn or whomever you want. But you have a better chance of getting a winning start from Wainwright than you do anyone else on this roster.
Either way, it's no easy decision. And Mike Matheny must be losing sleep over what to do.