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The challenges of the pitching staff in the Cubs series

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With five games in three days following three games in two days, the Cards are in a tough spot.

Pittsburgh Pirates v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

As far as important series goes, the one that starts later today is among the biggest in this short season. The Cardinals will face off for five games against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, including two today and two on Wednesday. Obviously, this will seriously test the Cardinals pitching depth, but it is worth pointing out it will test the Cubs pitching depth as well. So this will be a pretty interesting series.

If you’re wondering, like I am, who will be pitching in this Cubs series, the Cubs fans are currently wondering the same thing. For the early game, the Cubs will be pitching Kyle Hendricks, who I’m sure they are hoping he pitches a complete game. For game two, well I’m sure it will depend on what happens with Hendricks. Because the original plan was Tyler Chatwood, who was scratched from Saturday’s start and thought to be ready for Monday, but was officially put on the IL on Sunday, so he’s not an option for any of the three games.

The prevailing thought is that it may be a start that goes to the recently called up Adbert Alzolay. Or it may be a bullpen start. It could be a bullpen game with a start by Alzolay. Think the Woodford start on Saturday, where even if he pitches well, he will only go a few innings.

Against Hendricks will be the first MLB start of Kwang-Hyun Kim, and he’ll certainly have a tough opponent to start his MLB starting pitching career. The Cubs have a very clear advantage in Game 1, even aside from Hendricks being a better pitcher than Kim (which is nothing against Kim, but Hendricks has been unbelievably good). Hendricks can throw 100 pitches. Kim probably won’t come near that. So hopefully, Kim is very efficient.

Against either Alzolay or somebody in the bullpen, the Cards will probably counter with the first MLB start by Ricardo Sanchez if I had to guess. Why do I say that? Well, he’s literally the only pitcher who hasn’t pitched and he, theoretically, has some potential to start in the future. Any concerns about him would probably also apply to Woodford, so it’s clear the Cards are simply in survival mode and throwing anybody who can pitch. Austin Gomber might possibly be ready for Monday night’s start though that’s in doubt.

As for who should be available in the bullpen, the Cardinals will have a fresh Giovanny Gallegos (12 pitches), John Gant (16 pitches), Genesis Cabrera (22 pitches), Alex Reyes (18 pitches), Tyler Webb (16 pitches), and Andrew Miller (18 pitches). They all pitched on Saturday and should easily be available for Monday. That’s only six pitchers, which means that one of those guys is probably pitching more than one inning. Though with three more games in two days, there’s a very fine line with how much you should be willing to pitch them. You need them available in two more days too.

Sunday’s pitchers may not help much. Roel Ramirez threw 30 pitches and well, we saw what happened. Even aside from him getting crushed, you probably don’t want him to pitch the day after coming off 30 pitches anyway. And Seth Elledge only threw 25 pitches, but pitched 2.1 IP, which almost certainly knocks him out for Monday as well. Rob Kaminsky, at just eight pitches, should be available in case there are no other options, but he does have a long injury history that may make one not included to pitch him back-to-back days either. If Kim can throw 5 innings and Sanchez can throw 3, then you only need one inning from everyone else. God help us if we go into extra innings.

So Monday night’s start is either going to Gomber or Sanchez. If it goes to Gomber, Sanchez will pitch in one of the two games and Woodford starts again on Wednesday. If it goes to Sanchez and Gomber is set for Wednesday, I expect Woodford to eat innings in the bullpen on Tuesday. Ponce is pitching Tuesday in a 9 inning game and he’ll have a pitch count around 60-70 pitches as well, which basically means he could pitch as little as 2 innings, and I wouldn’t expect even 4 full innings from him. If Gomber starts on Monday, you’ll likely have four relievers to fill in the remaining innings, but if he starts Wednesday, you’ll have the Sunday crew (Ramirez, Kaminsky, Elledge) so in some ways, it might more sense to hold him off until Wednesday. Of course, that depends partially on Sanchez being able to throw 3 innings himself on Monday, which on a pitch count and being his first MLB start, seems like a leap of faith.

Basically, I almost think you can use your depth better by starting Gomber Wedneday. Unless you really believe in Woodford and want him to start Wednesday and I really do not believe in him, so him or Ricardo Sanchez starting makes zero difference to me. By starting him Wednesday, you can use an extra pitcher over the next two days, and bring him down when you activate Gomber. I think the Cardinals would need someone like Woodford to throw multiple innings on Tuesday. Woodford threw just 34 pitches on Saturday and should be as fresh as can be by Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the Cubs throw... Yu Darvish. Hendricks Monday, Darvish Tuesday, possible MLB debut from Cards also on Monday. This series could go very badly. Wednesday is a lot more favorable. A lot. A LOT. Against Flaherty is Alec Mills, who’s not particularly good (2.84 ERA in 3 starts notwithstanding). And then if it were up to me, it’s Gomber against what is probably going to be Colin Rea on short rest, although he only threw 49 pitches on Saturday. I’m not sure they have any other choice. It’s baseball so anything can happen, but if they can get to Wednesday with just one win, Wednesday could really turn the tides. Or they can make things easier and just win all the games.

So buckle up. Season’s never going to be harder than this. Later in the season, when we have doubleheaders, the starters can pitch close to 100 pitches. The Cards not only have to contend with five games in three days, but five games where none of their starters are fully up to speed yet. So it will a hell of a test. If they come out of it with a series win, it will feel like the Cards can handle anything that comes their way. Get ready and let’s play a lot of ball.