By Brian Feldman, BaseballStL
Assuming the world doesn’t come to an end in the next two weeks and the Cardinals do indeed end up playing in the postseason Mike Matheny is going to have some awfully tough decisions to make. Who starts in the outfield? How about first base? Which big name gets a seat on the bench?
Better yet, who doesn’t even get a spot on the postseason roster?
But the single biggest decision is going to reside on the mound. Starting pitching, to be precise. In the playoffs teams only need four starters – not five like the regular season. That means someone who’s been starting all year long gets a seat in the bullpen.
Typically, teams have a pretty easy call to make. They usually have an easily identifiable ace, a couple more to go the next two games and someone to go in Game 4. There’s almost always a pretty clear fifth guy who isn’t surprised to hear he didn’t get a playoff starting assignment.
The Cardinals are not your typical team. In years past they’ve banished guys like Shelby Miller – who was tiring in 2013 – and Michael Wacha – who wasn’t able to get back to full strength in 2014 – from the rotation in October. This year is a tad different.
Without Adam Wainwright around, there isn’t a clear ace, let alone a clear number two, three, four and five. John Lackey, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia and Carlos Martinez have all had a lot of success in 2015. It’s all been awfully comparable as well.
Lackey (200 innings, 2.79 ERA), Martinez (172.2, 3.02), Wacha (167.1, 2.96), Lynn (159.1, 3.28) and Garcia (110.2, 2.52) all have ERAs in the 2.52-3.28 range. That’s awfully consistent with no one sticking out as a clear number one or number five.
Lynn’s most recent outing against the Cubs where he went just three and a third innings and walked six doesn’t bode well for him, especially with the Cubs as a potential NLDS opponent. Jaime Garcia hasn’t been at his best in the last couple starts either by virtue of giving up 10 runs in not even 11 innings.
In all honesty, this could go down to the wire. Whoever is pitching best at the end of the regular season may very well get the starting assignments and whoever is pitching the worst gets a spot in the bullpen. Matchups could go into play here as well since the Pirates and Cubs are the likely candidates to oppose the Cards.
Going based on Matheny’s history of rewarding past experience and reputation, I’d be shocked if John Lackey didn’t go Game 1. The man has been the most consistent pitcher all year long among starters. He’s a veteran who has been there before and done that. He won’t scare. Lackey has Game 1 written all over him in my mind (barring something drastic happening between now and the postseason).
My money is on Wacha going in Game 2 as he’s been the next best and most consistent. After that I really couldn’t tell you. You’d be talking about Game 3 and Game 4 on the road. A lot will depend on the opponent and who does well at that particular venue. Recent starts may also apply.
We need to remember Carlos Martinez has extensive bullpen experience the last couple years so he’d be a natural fit back there. But, then again, Lance Lynn also pitched out of the bullpen early in his big league career. Would Matheny dare make Lynn a reliever in October?
It would be nice to have a lefty in the postseason rotation but 10 runs on 14 hits in the last two starts isn’t exactly showing well for Garcia’s groove right now. Will that change over the next two weeks?
A lot of questions remain with regards to the starting rotation in the postseason. Remember, starting pitching sets the tone for a baseball game. They have far more say in whether or not their team wins or loses than anyone else on the roster. It’s a big decision for Matheny coming up.
Two weeks and counting until we get our answer.