At this point of the season, the team's primary goals should be to win the division, then secure the best record in the league and the home field advantage that goes with it. That is a much better position than the club faced last season, when they were one of two wild cards competing in a one-game play-in..
Either way, no later than the morning of the first game, Thursday, October 3, the Cardinals will have to declare their 25-man active roster for the Division Series. This article is my annual prediction of who those 25 will be.
Though it will not affect the Cardinals this year, remember that the 25-man rosters to be set by the Reds and Pirates for the Wild Card Game will not be binding for the NLDS. That creates flexibility.
For example, last season, the Cardinals had seven possible starters available, but activated only two for the wild card contest – Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn. They added eight other pitchers and 15 position players for the Wild Card Game in Atlanta.
For the NLDS and NLCS, however, the Cards went to a traditional 12 pitchers and 13 position players mix. I expect that is what they will choose again this year.
A very fair question is which of the five current starters may be left out of the playoff rotation. However, we don't know for sure the Cards will even go with four. But if they do, the "skipped" starter will almost surely be among the relievers.
I know I am hedging my bets, but until he threw his masterful one-hitter through 8 2/3 innings Tuesday night, it would have relatively easy to exclude Michael Wacha from the top four starters. Still, when all is said and done, I think that is what will happen.
Lance Lynn has seemingly righted his ship and Joe Kelly carried the staff for the better part of the month here in the second half. They have earned their rotation spots over time, even if Wacha could be better this instant.
Speaking of starters, or should I say former starters, veteran Jake Westbrook has become a September afterthought, pitching in just one game for 1 1/3 innings this month. I see his competitor for the eighth and final relief spot to be rookie Carlos Martinez. Here is why I give the nod to Martinez.
Following his first career save, earned in extra innings last Friday at Milwaukee, Martinez added his first two career holds in his only outings since. This indicates manager Mike Matheny is showing more confidence in Martinez in important situations. Overall, this month, Martinez has appeared in seven games, allowing four earned runs (all in one bad outing) over 8 1/3 innings. He fanned eight and walked just two.
The other relievers seem clear to me. We have lefties Kevin Siegrist and Randy Choate. Current closer Trevor Rosenthal joins not current closer Edward Mujica. Specialist Seth Maness is in along with fellow rookie Wacha. Late August acquisition John Axford has earned a spot as well.
On the outside looking in, but ready to be activated in the case of injury, are lefties Tyler Lyons and Sam Freeman. We also have righty Fernando Salas, who made the post-season roster last fall, and Westbrook, who was shelved last October due to injury.
|Hitters (13)||Pitchers (12)|
|Catchers (2)||Molina||Starters (4)||Wainwright|
|Descalso||Relievers (8)||Siegrist (L)|
|Chambers||Excluded (4)||Lyons (L)|
Now it is time to explain my thinking on the position players. It won't take long.
Only because of the foot injury to Allen Craig do I project Kolten Wong to make the NLDS roster. The second baseman has struggled with the bat, but like fifth outfielder Adron Chambers, the rookie can be valuable on the bases.
If/when Craig is ready at any series juncture, Wong would seem to be odd man out. With as thin as this five-man bench is, perhaps the Cardinals will be focused on trying to get Craig back to DH in the World Series.
Because Yadier Molina has shown no ill effects from his knee injury recently, carrying a third catcher seems unnecessary.
Along with Craig, those projected to be left off the NLDS roster are catchers Rob Johnson and Audry Perez plus infielders Brock Peterson and Ryan Jackson. Any injury backfills would depend on the position to be covered.
Peterson is the only other one who might have had a real chance. The right-handed hitter really only plays first base, a position at which the Cardinals have many options. Yet he is not on my roster simply because he has not proven his worth as a pinch-hitter.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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