by Rob Raines
with 13The tenth The division title has been secured since 2000, and the Cardinals’ attention for the final week of the regular season can now turn to preparing for the wild card series.
The decisions that the front office, manager Ole Marmul and the coaching staff have to make will determine the rotation, come up with the best possible lineup, decide who should fill the last two benches and benches, and see if two of the key players who are injured will be healthy enough to contribute. Run the team after the season.
All decisions will come with questions attached. Here’s a rundown of what the Cardinals brass will be thinking about in the coming days:
rotation: Based on recent performances, the starters for the first two games of the Wild-Card Series should be Miles Mikolas and Jose Quintana. Who gets to play next is an even bigger challenge.
Adam Wainwright? Jordan Montgomery? Jack Flaherty? An argument can be made for or against all three… especially considering that if one of those three started in the wild card series it would probably be in the win-or-go-home game.
How each show at the start of the regular season can answer the question. The Cardinals will also have to consider that if a third game is necessary in a wild card round, they’ll need another starting player ready to play one Division Series game on Tuesday, October 11, which will be a road game in either. New York or Atlanta, whoever wins the NL East.
The Cardinals will likely keep a fourth start available for the wild card series in the event that a player exits the game early. The fifth starter can either be reduced to a relief role or be left off the roster until the second round, when rosters can be shuffled.
Cold bats: Some hitters that the Cardinals have relied on all season have seen their production dip in the past two weeks. The reason the team could survive the playoffs may simply come down to whether Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado can get hot again.
After arriving in September as a legitimate threat to win the Triple Crown, Goldschmidt averaged . 241 for the month with only two home runs in 95 plate appearances and now is unlikely to lead the league in any of the Triple Crown categories. Arenado has been worse, hitting . 214, with two homers coming in 95 plate this month.
What could be as important as production from these two players is who batters in front of them – and if they can get enough base to give Goldschmidt and Arenado RBI chances.
Possibly coming from a combination of Tommy Edman, Brendan Donovan, and Lars Nootbaar, this decision was likely driven by the pitcher’s individual matches. Edman posted an average of 0.298 this month, with a 0.344 based on a percentage. Donovan hit only . 229 but thanks to 15 walks, he had a . 379 on-base percentage with one game left in the month.
Nootbaar only hit . 175 in September, but his four home runs were the most on a team behind the six hit by Albert Pujols.
Of the players most likely to be in the starting lineup in the playoffs, the only two players with a batting average above . 241 for the month were Yadier Molina (. 306) and Edman. The team’s compound average for the month. 222 ranked 13thThe tenth In the NL and total 95 home runs in 25 games, averaging 3.8 per game, they are bettered only by the Reds, Marlins, and Cubs.
Menu adjustments/make-up: Assuming the Cardinals hold 13 throws for the Wild-Card series, they’ll also have 13 center fielders. Ten of those points appear to have ruled out a new injury – Goldschmidt, Arenado, Edman, Donovan, Molina, Andrew Kneisner, Dylan Carlson, Nutbar, Corey Dickerson and Pujols.
If Tyler O’Neill’s painful hamstring ever heals, he’ll be on the list. Despite his lack of offensive production, Paul DeJong is expected to be included because the team like to use him as a late defensive replacement if they have a lead. That would leave one place to fill. The main candidate Ikele is Juan Yepez, who can be employed in the field, as a designated hitter or hitter.
If O’Neal can’t pitch, that would open up a spot for Alec Burleson, Ben DeLuzio, or perhaps Nolan Gorman, who was tapped to join Memphis in the final week of the Triple A season for regular batters. In recent weeks, the Cardinals have used DeLuzio in the same way as DeJong, going on defense if they have a late lead.
Injury updates: O’Neal has struggled with multiple injuries throughout his disappointing season and is now suffering from a sore hamstring. He’ll have to prove he can run full speed, and be able to hit, in order for the Cardinals to feel comfortable returning him to the roster. If he isn’t healthy enough to be in the starting lineup, will the Cardinals simply keep him on the roster as an influence option?
The injury question in the game relates to Jordan Hicks, who came on the list with neck spasms and arm fatigue. Prior to his latest injury, Hicks was used as a key bridge tackle, with good success, and that would be how the Cardinals would like to use him in the playoffs – but he’s got to prove he’s healthy enough to do so.
Polben makeup: If the Cardinals keep four starters available for the wild card round, they can have nine pitchers in the bullpen. It is also possible for a team to decide to go with only 12 pitchers in the best of three series, allowing them to keep a player in an extra position, knowing that they will be able to adjust the roster should they advance to a division series.
Also on the award list are Ryan Helsley, Giovanni Gallegos, Andre Palante and Stephen Matz. The other four or five points are not unlocked.
A right-hander, the Cardinals could keep Dakota Hudson at the mall, especially if they need a long reliever. That spot, too, could be filled by Flaherty if he doesn’t start. Chris Stratton would probably be on the list. Jake Woodford, despite his recent success, may well be a victim of the numbers game, especially if Hicks is healthy enough to play.
Part of the decision regarding the mounting of the bulls will be the answer to the question of whether to keep two or three left. Besides Matz, other lefties could be JoJo Romero, Zack Thompson, or Genesis Cabrera, who has been pitching in Memphis to try and see that he can regain his lost speed.
There are six games, all against the Buccaneers, to try and come up with these answers.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports