Postseason Possibilities

I mentioned yesterday I was hoping to do a post looking at the postseason roster and then examining Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.  However, time got away from me, which means that you get two posts in one!  Please, corral your excitement.

Putting together the divisional series roster is a parlor game a number of people are playing.  For the most part, 90% of the selections are going to be the same.  For instance, I believe that the Cardinals have implied they will go with a 13/12 split between hitters and pitchers.  Which means offensively you have your eight regular starters, Pete Kozma (9), Shane Robinson (10), Tony Cruz (11).  That would seem to allow for Adrian Chambers (12) and Kolten Wong (13) to make it onto the roster, at least for the first round of the playoffs.

With twelve pitchers, you have your starting rotation (which is likely Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, and Joe Kelly) and then eight relievers: Michael Wacha (5), Trevor Rosenthal (6), Kevin Siegrist (7), John Axford (8), Randy Choate (9), Carlos Martinez (10), and Seth Maness (11).

Which means the last spot becomes tricky.  I’m on record as saying I don’t believe the Cardinals can afford to carry Edward Mujica into the postseason, no matter how much he gave to the club during the season.  There’s precedent for this as well, since Kyle McClellan contributed significantly to the 2011 squad but was left off the rosters of the NLDS and the World Series.

If the Cards do leave Mujica off, you’d expect that Sam Freeman would get the call.  Freeman was pretty effective down the stretch, though the only two games out of the last 10 that he allowed runs were against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.  Still, having three lefties, especially if the Reds advance and have all of that lefty power, would seem to be a nice luxury for Mike Matheny to have.

Looking at tonight’s game between the Pirates and the Reds, we need to figure out just who to root for.  No better way than to do that than a little pro and con work.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pros: If there’s an organization in the postseason that might feel the bright lights and the big stage and get a little tighter, it’s the Pirates.  An organization that has been out of the playoffs for so long would have to have a little of the “happy to be here” feeling to them.  Not that they don’t want more, but it’s still a successful season if they go out in three in the NLDS.

Given the fact that Francisco Liriano will be going in the playoff game tonight, that means that he can’t face the Cardinals until Game 3 of the series and that would be the only time the Redbirds would see him.  Being that he’s 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA against the St. Louis club in 2013, not seeing him twice is a major benefit.

I feel like Pittsburgh’s offense isn’t quite as dominant as other lineups in October, but looking at that chart over at Viva El Birdos, it doesn’t look like there’s a significant drop off for them over the other options.

While the Pirates did win the season series 10-9 over the Cardinals, St. Louis swept the last three games they played (a series in Busch) and won two of three in a mid-August series at Busch as well.  Home field may play a big role in this one.

Cons: Liriano isn’t the only pitcher the Pirates have.  The Cards have beaten up on A.J. Burnett at times, but he’s also been able to shut them down as well.  He threw seven innings of one-hit ball back in April and seven innings of one-run ball in August.  If he’s on, St. Louis could have their hands full.

They also have Gerrit Cole, who is a touted rookie who had a very strong September.  There’s another advantage here–the Cards have never faced Cole, somehow missing him in all those games played down the stretch.  Whether it’s good planning or just luck, Cole faced a number of weaker teams, but he still poses a significant threat for St. Louis.

As noted, the Cards lost the season series 10-9 to the Bucs.  That includes a 3-7 mark in PNC Park, which means that if the Redbirds lose one of the first two games, this series is in significant peril.

Of course, there are the obvious threats of Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, who tend to do a number on the Cardinals, as well as the new guys in Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau.

Finally, it’s a great story line.  Underdogs in their first playoffs in forever knock off the team that is always making postseason runs.  When you can see the headlines, you know there’s a major threat.

Cincinnati Reds

Pros: St. Louis beat the Reds 11 out of 19 times this season, including a 6-3 mark under the Arch.  The Redbirds outscored the Reds by 25 in their meetings, though it would have been better had Cincinnati not won a 10-0 game.

Johnny Cueto goes in the play-in game, so like Liriano, he wouldn’t be available to end anyone’s career pitch against St. Louis until Game 3.  Cueto has been tough on the Cards in the past, so not having him twice could be a boon, though not as much as missing Liriano would be.

The Reds have a lot of left-handers (Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Shin-Soo Choo) and the bullpen arms of the Cardinals line up well to neutralize that threat.  Siegrist is nasty on anyone, but even more so on those that are of the same handed persuasion.

There aren’t as many former Cardinals over there anymore, so it’s not like there’s much sympathy for those guys.  Ryan Ludwick still holds down the Cardinal flame, but that’s about it besides Walt Jocketty up in the front office.

Cons: Even though the Cards would miss Cueto, they’d likely get Mat Latos twice.  They had been able to hit him hard in the past, but this season the Reds were 3-1 in games Latos started against the Cardinals, including a complete game.  The Latos they used to score seven runs off of is probably well gone.

The Reds also have Homer Bailey waiting in the wings.  St. Louis actually got to him a couple of times early in the season, but the last two times he faced the club he threw seven scoreless innings each time.  Not exactly the run you are looking for if you are a Cards fan.

You also have Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen.  While he’s not as automatic this year as he was–his ERA is a full run higher than it was in 2012–he’s still a formidable presence at the end of games, as the Cardinals saw earlier in the year when he was hitting 103 and higher against them.  In seven innings this year, the Cards managed just two hits off of him.

Two games would be played in Great American Ball Park, where the balls tend to fly and one misplaced pitch could put you in a hole that you can’t recover from.  The Reds were 49-31 at home, a significant reason they are still playing after the season is over.

These are just a few of the reasons for and against each team.  Given that either would be a team the Cardinals have faced a lot this seasons and would renew NL Central rivalries, there’s not an obvious choice here.  I think I’m leaning toward wanting to play Pittsburgh, but both of them would be tough and each knocking off the Cards wouldn’t be a surprise.  Should be a great game tonight to see which one the Redbirds will be facing!

  • David Henderson

    I think the Bucs will have a hard time against the Cards. That is going to be a great matchup if it comes to pass!

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