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Pitching question marks in season’s final week

In the most important stretch of games all season, the Cardinals face many uncertainties

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at San Francisco Giants John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Much has been made about Mike Matheny’s misuse of the bullpen. Almost two weeks ago, Viva El Birdos published an article on the manager’s poor decision to use and then keep Ryan Sherrif in the game against the Reds. Four days later, another article about Matheny was published. This time, an examination of four separate occasions during the same game where his terrible strategy left the Cardinals in a worse position than where they had started.

Most fans would be upset with a manager who only mishandled his bullpen, even if he executed perfectly in every other aspect of the game. This is not the situation the Cardinals are in with Mike Matheny. Just five days ago, another article was published about the manager’s inability to replace the starting pitcher before it is too late.

Are all of the bullpen’s struggles Matheny’s fault? Is he to blame for every mistake the pitching staff makes? The answer to both of these questions is no. Still, there is a very clear sentiment, and analysis to back it up, that Matheny does not put his team in the best position to win games.

Nevertheless, it would be an oversight not to consider the extreme transition this pitching staff has experienced throughout the 2017 season. The Cardinals have used three starters (Weaver, Flaherty, Gant) in the last week who were not only absent from the starting rotation at the beginning of the year, but who were also not even on the opening day roster. Keep in mind that the last week of baseball has been filled with games that could not be more important.

There is also the bullpen shakeup that has occurred, which must be considered. The opening day closer, Oh, has struggled all season. The man who replaced him, Rosenthal, now requires Tommy John surgery. And Tyler Lyons, who is arguably the biggest pitching success story on the team, started the season in AAA.

With all of this turnover, it is no wonder that the pitching staff has had more than its fair share of issues. Unsurprisingly, the Cardinals are faced with many question marks, certainly for next year, but also for the last week of the regular season.

First, how will Adam Wainwright be used? He returned on Saturday, allowing one run over a relief appearance that lasted two innings. That alone is not reason to bench him for the rest of the year. However, his velocity, just as it was before he was placed on the DL, was nowhere near what it was even at the beginning of this season. That is probably justification enough to not use him in high leverage situations. As tempting as it might be for Matheny to go to a veteran pitcher over the course of this next week, it would probably help the entire team if he refrained from relying on Wainwright.

Second, how much of a leash will John Gant be given in his start on Friday? It is certainly possible that the Cardinals will have played themselves out of playoff contention by the 29th, but barring a sweep by the Cubs, it is likely the Redbirds will have a chance going in to the final weekend. Matheny pulled Gant after three innings and just 48 pitches in Sunday’s loss to the Pirates. Although the expanded roster certainly allows for some flexibility in managing the bullpen, it is not ideal for bullpens to throw 5+ innings often—the bullpen threw almost 17 innings in three games over the weekend in Pittsburgh.

These are just two questions facing Mike Matheny and his pitching staff as the Cardinals look down a stretch of 7 games at home to close out the season. It’s a dynamic time of year. Especially for a game where small sample sizes are usually tossed out the window, this time of year, all we have left is a small sample size.