ATLANTA — Cardinals manager Mike Shildt didn't revel in the difficult decisions that had to be made relative to the Cardinals 25-man roster for the NLDS.
John Gant was arguably the Cardinals best player the first couple months of the season. When May concluded, Gant's 3-0 record and 1.21 ERA had him in early consideration for an All-Star Game appearance. Since then, though, Gant has been on the down slide, posting a 5.65 ERA since June 1, culminating in a whopping 13.50 ERA in September.
When it comes to the postseason, fielding a roster of the 25 players most likely to earn your team a series win has to be a priority. In the case of the NLDS against Atlanta, the Cardinals determined Gant was not one of those 25.
"The biggest person off the roster is John Gant," Mike Shildt said before Thursday's game. "That was the hardest decision, quite candidly, by far. You're talking about a guy that won 11 games, more than 10 percent of our win total. Just made a decision based on more recency. (Genesis) Cabrera being on there is a situation based on their roster composition, I think that's pretty clear."
The Braves boast switch-hitter Ozzie Albies and lefties Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, Matt Joyce and Brian McCann in their Game 1 lineup Thursday, which gave the Cardinals incentive to include Cabrera on the roster as a third left-handed reliever behind Andrew Miller and Tyler Webb.
From a game-management standpoint, the Gant decision was sensible. That doesn't mean it was any easier on Shildt. The Cardinals manager emphasized Thursday that while Gant isn't in the team's plans for this first series, his season might not necessarily be over.
"Clearly a tough decision, tough conversation, and tough for John, really. I think the world of him," Shildt said. "Moving forward, some of you guys may have seen our workout yesterday, John threw a live BP. John will be available in case, God forbid, something happens in this series to somebody. We're keeping him sharp for next series based on what that looks like after this series, based on match-ups. There's a really good opportunity that, if we advance, John will be on that roster."
Elsewhere, Shildt said that the defensive flexibility provided by Yairo Munoz was enough to earn him a spot on the Cardinals bench for this series over an extra power bat off the bench like Rangel Ravelo or Tyler O'Neill.
Munoz posted a 73 wRC+ this season (100 is league-average). His lack of offensive punch likely renders Munoz as an emergency defensive substitute. Primary pinch-hitting duties will likely be left to Matt Carpenter, Randy Arozarena and Jose Martinez, as any usage of Matt Wieters would leave the Cardinals without a back-up catcher off the bench.
Dakota Hudson will be available for the Cardinals out of the bullpen for Games 1 and 2. Shildt described Daniel Ponce de Leon as an option out of the Cardinals bullpen that can pave the bridge from the starter to the late innings should St. Louis have a situation where their starter doesn't pitch deep into a game.
In the postseason, that wouldn't always be an indictment of the starter; with guys like Carpenter and Martinez available off the bench in Game 1, it's conceivable that Shildt would deploy his pinch-hitting weapons aggressively early in games if the right opportunity presents. It's that confidence in guys like Hudson and Ponce de Leon to bridge the gap that could lead Shildt to go for it.
"It does create an opportunity to say hey, we can make an adjustment if we need be early in a game and then we get to a certain point, then we'll kind of be into our normal bullpen."
Shildt also confirmed Thursday that Adam Wainwright would start Game 3 of the NLDS at Busch Stadium Sunday, with Dakota Hudson lined up for Game 4.
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