At this point of the season, the team's realistic goal should be to secure one of the two National League wild cards. Under the new format initiated this year, the two wild cards will have a one-game play-in, with the winner facing the division winner with the best record in the NL Division Series.
The importance of that wild card game is obviously huge – not unlike a game seven.
That contest will have a unique twist, as pointed out by ESPN's Buster Olney.
The 25-man rosters used for the wild card game are not binding for the NLDS. That raises some very interesting possibilities.
With seven possible starters, if they so chose, the Cardinals could have two or even three starters available for the play-in game, having a couple on the ready in case a quick hook is needed on the starter.
The other four "regular" starters could be left off the play-in roster completely, conserving them for their scheduled DS appearances. A couple of extra bench players and a couple more relievers could be added instead, for example.
While the risk of an extra inning play-in could put this strategy in question, an extra long man/minor league starter could be one of those rostered. I am specifically thinking of Trevor Rosenthal, with Shelby Miller another possibility.
Even though this is obviously premature, for fun I am going to forecast the Cardinals' wild card and NLDS pitching rosters.
No one can predict if/when the Cardinals might clinch the wild card and how much time that would give them to align their post-season rotation. So, it is impossible to know the identity of that one-game starter.
For example purposes, let's decide it would be Chris Carpenter to get the winner-take-all wild card assignment. After all, who would be better with the entire season on the line?
Let's assume that instead of 12 pitchers and 13 position players, the Cards would go with 10 pitchers and 15 position players. We are also expecting Jake Westbrook will be back and ready to assume a normal workload.
Rosenthal and Sam Freeman would be my two extra wild card relievers, both predicted to be squeezed off the NLDS roster. Rosenthal offers another wild card multi-inning possibility.
In this scenario, the Cardinals would go into the DS with just one left-hander - far from a sure thing. If the Cards go with four starters in the DS, the number five starter could work in relief.
Miller and Victor Marte would not make either roster. I think when all is said and done, the Cards will go with the guys who have been contributing all season long over final-month call ups.
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In part two, I will make my early position player predictions for the wild card and NLDS.
What do you think? What would you do? Weigh in at The Cardinal Nation subscriber-only message board.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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