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Cardinals on the Verge of a Central Takedown

The Cardinals climbed to the cusp of a clinch last night. Only a sweep of the Reds by the Pirates and the Cardinals by the Cubs would result in the Cardinals having to face a play-in game. Who should be on the post-season roster?

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Sweeping the Nationals left us in a much better spot than I though we might be in when I started bouncing ideas around for today's post. Since we've actually clinched a play-in spot, it seems worth talking about our postseason roster and what it might look like.

Some pieces, barring last-minute injuries, are written in indelible marker. Matt Carpenter and his 7.2 WAR seemlikely to start games in the postseason. Yadier Molina's knee ailments seem to have abated, though I'll be annoyed if Tony Cruz doesn't start at least one game in the Cubs series.

Matt Holliday's back spasms have read like an annoyance instead of a debilitating problem, so I'd expect to see him resting up during the Cubs series; kudos to Holliday for turning around a lackluster first half (124 wRC+) with an outstanding second half (170 wRC+). He's up to 4.2 WAR now, which is not exactly Peak Holliday, but looks pretty solid for an outfielder starting his waning period.

Carlos Beltran, Jon Jay, Shane Robinson, David Freese, Pete Kozma, Tony Cruz, Matt Adams, and Daniel Descalso seem like fixtures in the postseason roster. The club is keeping fairly mum on Allen Craig right now; right now, the Magic 8-ball seems to say "signs point to no" on his postseason prospects.

That's 11 position players; the remaining 2 slots could go to Adron Chambers, Kolten Wong, Brock Peterson, or Ryan Jackson. If I were betting money, I think Wong and Chambers make the most sense. Peterson seems to have lost some of the novelty he once had. He's gotten one PA in the last week, and 5 in the last two weeks. Jackson has only had 1 PA in the last two weeks.

The tougher questions come with the pitchers. Clearly, Wainwright will start our first postseason game. Lynn and Miller have finished the season a little rough on re-entry, but they have been very dependable pitchers and deserve a start in the postseason.

The interesting question there is whether Wacha or Kelly would start a 4th game in a seven-game series. We're not in any seven-game series yet, but I think it's awfully hard to resist the temptation to start Wacha in a fourth game. In just nine starts and six relief appearances, he's already been worth 1.1 WAR, with a 3.4 K/BB ratio. Those are some very sharp fundamentals. Kelly seems like someone you could have start a bunch of games if you needed him to, but he wouldn't be my among my first few choices on this team. His sub-2.00 K/BB ratio gives me pause.

Those five should see action, with three or four of them making starts. You'd be hard-pressed not to make Trevor Rosenthal your first pick for the bullpen. I've been watching these lines converge all season, and I can finally report the weirdest stat of the year for me: Trevor Rosenthal has been worth more by fWAR in the bullpen (2.1) than Shelby Miller has in the rotation (2.0). That's pretty amazing.

Mujica is another health question mark. He hasn't appeared in a game since the 20th. It will be interesting to see how, or if, the club uses him in the Cubs series. If he just needed some rest/retooling/a mental health break, he might come back soon in some low leverage innings. If he's suffering from something more serious, like dead arm or a soft tissue injury, he may sit out the Cubs series.

Kevin Siegrist and his historic major league debut (2 runs in 38 innings, to date) definitely merit a bullpen spot. Randy Choate definitely fits in the postseason bullpen; despite a rough-looking April and May, Choate has been very effective as a lefty specialist.

Whatever you can say about someone in 9 innings, John Axford has looked like his old self since the trade, and not much like the guy who seemed to melt down with regularity over the past two seasons. Since his arrival, he's struck out more guys and walked fewer--and most importantly, not allowed a homer.

Seth Maness looks like another post-season keeper. Though he still strikes nobody out, he walks even more nobody, and his groundball rate continues to hover around a jaw-dropping 68%. Look for him to continue to put out fires.

Although Carlos Martinez has been used infrequently and irregularly, I'm picking him as the last member of the bullpen. He continues to get lots of chances in relief, and his peripherals remain good, even if the results are somewhat lacking (5.47 ERA).

If Mujica can't perform,  the club would probably pick among Fernando Salas, Sam Freeman, and Tyler Lyons to fill a low-leverage spot in the bullpen.  Twist my arm and I'd probably pick Tyler Lyons, but there are decent arguments for all of them and good arguments for none of them.

If someone had told you in spring training that the 2013 postseason bullpen would look something like

Kelly/Wacha; Martinez; Maness; Siegrist; Rosenthal; Mujica; Choate; Axford, would you have believed them?

The Cardinals could cut someone from the bullpen, if they wanted, for the division series, and play an extra position player. There's probably some logic to doing so, but the club simply may not see much advantage in adding Brock Peterson or Ryan Jackson, given their reluctance to use either. I guess Rob Johnson is another outside shot at a position player role, but he's been almost completely ignored since Tony Cruz's stress fracture more or less healed, getting only 8 PAs in September. If I were betting, I think they carry 13 position players and 12 pitchers, even in the division series.