So, as folks are wont to do at this time of year, in part because it’s interesting, in part because you need to fill the time between the end of the season and the beginning of the postseason (assuming you aren’t doing my Twitter rankings, which you really should be), it’s time to see who makes up the 25 men that go into battle for #12inStL. Josh has been doing a great job at 1892 On Through breaking down who could go, how each decision could be made, and so forth. Viva El Birdos is crowd-sourcing it. Everyone is taking their crack at it and I always did hate to be left out. (I got used to it, mind you, but I never liked it.)
We’re all focusing on just a couple of spots anyway. To be fair, when you can replace folks because of injury or change it up before each new round, the decisions aren’t necessarily all that binding. Any Cardinal fan worth their salt would probably get 95% of the roster correct without even thinking hard. It’s those last spots that are so interesting. It seems like John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny might actually go with a 14/11 hitter/pitcher split, which is almost unbelievable. Not that it’s the wrong decision–it most definitely is the right call–but I never thought they’d go that way. I mean, this is a team that had just 12 out of 25 folks be hitters a number of times this year. And that was generous because Pete Kozma was on the roster! (Pretty sure that was a required dig. Nobody ever could pass that up.) So, assuming that they stick to those guns, let’s see what we might have.
Catchers (2): Yadier Molina, Tony Cruz
The reports are that Molina is making progress and is improving daily, to the point that the Cardinals believe he’ll make the roster. If they are already saying such things, it’s almost a guarantee Molina will be there, even if he shouldn’t be. Hopefully a little rest and healing will show up with some positive results, but Matheny needs to remember this is a hampered Molina and bat him seventh or eighth instead of in the middle of the lineup. Cruz actually did quite well taking over for Yadi over the last week or two, even though it’s not likely he’d see more than an at-bat or two in the series if Molina’s there.
Infield (6): Matt Carpenter, Greg Garcia, Brandon Moss, Jhonny Peralta, Mark Reynolds, Kolten Wong
Your starters at second, third, and short are no-brainers, of course. Matt Adams went 7-31 (.226) after his return from the disabled list. While Moss has struggled at times since he was acquired, he’s also been able to get on a little bit of a roll at times as well. He had four of the team’s 12 hits in Atlanta and three of them went for extra bases. Factor in the fact that he can play outfield and I think he gets the edge over Adams. Reynolds is the righty that helps give you options at first, though the likelihood is neither Moss or Reynolds will play much there. We’re talking likely bench bats here and both of them are a little more consistent than Adams.
Garcia versus Kozma is going to be an interesting call. Obviously, most everyone in the fanbase would choose Garcia, because he’s not completely helpless when it comes to pinch-hitting and he can play adequate enough defense. You could argue that you’d like to have Kozma’s defense for the late innings of close games, but if they are that close, are you going to want to replace Peralta’s bat? You wouldn’t think so. Chances are whomever is taken here is more likely to make an impact at the plate, which gives the edge to Garcia.
Outfield (6): Randal Grichuk, Jason Heyward, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty
Piscotty is listed here, but he’s probably going to be playing first base much of the time as Holliday and Grichuk fill in around Heyward. (How they do that filling in will be interesting to see, as the team has indicated they are hesitant to put Grichuk back in center. If Heyward plays center, it’s all the same just different spots. If he doesn’t, well, that’s another discussion.) I would hope that, given basically a week of rest and the path they were on before the clincher, we’d see Holliday and Grichuk in back to back days. It could also be that we’ll see just one of them play left and Piscotty play right, freeing up first for Moss or Reynolds. There is a lot of flexibility on this roster, which is a very good thing when it comes to some of these not-quite-healthy folks.
The club also at one time (if I’m remembering Jenifer Langosch correctly) was only going to take one of Jay, Pham, and Peter Bourjos. That said, unless they do go with Adams as well as the other first base types, there’s room for both Jay and Pham on the squad, keeping the manager happy by allowing his guy with postseason experience to join the fun while also letting a guy with significant upside and potential off the bench to be involved as well. Now, the issue may be who starts in center if Heyward stays in right and Grichuk doesn’t get out there. Would Matheny go with Jay? That’s not a question, I know better than that. I would hope, though, it’ll be a moot point and Jay will only be a pinch-hitter (and even then, not with the game on the line).
Starters (4): Jaime Garcia, John Lackey, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha
The loss of Carlos Martinez is going to be huge, of course. I’m much less confident with Lynn and Wacha both in the rotation (after their last couple of months) than I would be if one of them had been shifted to the bullpen. That said, this is pretty much a slam dunk here. No matter how well the Patron Pitcher did in the clincher, he’s not likely to be bumping Wacha. He’s more likely to be the guy warming early in case of emergency.
Relievers (7): Jonathan Broxton, Randy Choate, Tyler Lyons, Seth Maness, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Adam Wainwright
This is probably where the toughest decisions are made. A number of folks would probably leave off Broxton, perhaps replacing him with Matt Belisle or Carlos Villanueva. However, we’ve seen that Matheny has gone to Broxton often as of late, which would seem to be a show of trust, and it would seem awfully strange if both of Mozeliak’s deadline moves didn’t make the roster and I’m pretty sure Steve Cishek will be watching from home. Not saying Mo is the kind of guy that would make a move to save face, but if there’s a tiebreaker, that might factor in.
Many would question having Choate on there as well, but besides Lyons, there’s nobody else to come in to face left-handers like Anthony Rizzo or Pedro Alvarez in mid-game situations. I know, I know, Choate’s no guarantee to get those folks out either, but he does up the odds somewhat, even if they aren’t as much as we’d like to see. Lyons doesn’t work as a LOOGY, I don’t think. It’s very possible that he’ll wind up with the Shelby Miller Scholarship in this one, but we’ll see.
It has to be tough to leave Villanueva off this roster, given that he contributed a lot to the season. That said, he’s struggled in the last couple of months and you don’t need to take two long men. Lyons gives you the cushion of having a starter that can pitch in extra innings and eat them up while also allowing you to use him earlier if necessary. Really, if Villanueva was left-handed, he’d probably get the spot, but I think Lyons did some really good work in September and that’ll get him on there. I’m biased, of course.
It’s a team with talent, a team that can take on all comers. Whether that talent will all show up at the right time, whether that talent will be enough for yet another NLCS, that remains to be seen. All we can do is hope!