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Doubleheader insanity

The Cardinals have a lot of doubleheaders. I try to guess the pitching plan.

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs - Game One Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When the Cardinals returned to play, all the way back on August 15th, they faced the daunting task of completing eight games in just five games. They had to do so while also dealing with the fact that none of their starters had pitched in over two weeks, causing Mike Shildt to ease them into games. The Cardinals face what is possibly a tougher task over the rest of the season, simply because after those eight games, they didn’t have another doubleheader for over a week.

Welcome to the insane part of the schedule. It started last week, when the Cardinals played a doubleheader against the Cubs on Saturday. But that wasn’t that tough. The Cardinals had an off day the Thursday before, so despite Kwang-Hyun Kim’s untimely IL trip, the Cardinals were in a pretty good position, especially since the Cubs have the pitching depth of a deck of cards balanced into a triangle on a windy day.

But thanks in part to that doubleheader, the Cards were in the unenviable position of throwing a AA pitcher against Kyle Hendricks the day before playing another doubleheader against the powerhouse offense of the Minnesota Twins. This was truly a difficult feat as Mike Shildt had to balance the needs of having most of his pitchers available for Tuesday while also trying to win all three games. The Cardinals at least made it easy on Monday by not ever appearing like they had any chance to win, so he could use the back half of the bullpen in low leverage innings.

On Tuesday, they were forced to go with the returning Carlos Martinez and a bullpen game. They were able to do this thanks to an off day after the doubleheader, which is very needed because later today, the Cardinals have a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. Neither game really went that well with the pitching staff. Allowing 11 runs in 14 innings is generally not a positive. But the offense showed up in one of the games, sort of, so they were able to split, which is about as good as you can hope for against a team like the Twins.

Today is, on the surface, not a tremendously difficult day. Jack Flaherty, having pitched last Friday, is more than rested enough. He will presumably start the first game of the doubleheader. As of this writing, I’m not entirely sure who is pitching game two. There are two approaches you could take though. Adam Wainwright and Austin Gomber both pitched the doubleheader last Saturday, so both can pitch five days later. My assumption is that Gomber gets the second game.

The reason I’m guessing Gomber is starting the second game is because it is vastly preferable to have Adam Wainwright pitch on Friday in a full 9 inning game than it is Gomber, who is not likely to last very long. Gomber throwing 4 innings in a 7 inning game is perfectly fine, but him doing that the day after a doubleheader is less fine. Gomber threw 55 pitches last Saturday, so he should be able to throw 70-80 pitches on Thursday. With his walk problems this year, I don’t imagine he’ll last that long in the game, but with Flaherty in the first game and Wainwright the day after, I don’t feel they’re relying on Gomber to throw innings. You would rely on him to throw innings if he had to pitch Friday.

Note: ESPN currently has Gomber starting the second game, so my assumption seems to be correct.

As mentioned, I expect Wainwright to take the mound on Friday. Wainwright has thrown at least 5 innings in every start this year and 7+ innings in half of his starts. He’s an excellent choice to pitch the day after a doubleheader. Plus, we’re facing the Cincinnati Reds, who are both better than the Detroit Tigers and could cause problems in the division. Not to sound too down on Gomber, but Wainwright simply gives us a better chance to win the more important game and to pitch more innings.

Now, you’ll notice, if you visit ESPN, that they think that Wainwright will pitch game two and Dakota Hudson will pitch Friday. There are problems with this assumption. Namely, that the Cardinals have doubleheaders the following Monday and Wednesday. So they need seven starters in five days. It makes sense to keep Gomber in the rotation, and it’ll make even more sense when I plot out the rest of the pitching decisions.

So Hudson isn’t pitching Friday, but he will be pitching Saturday. And as much as I think Johan Oviedo is not an MLB caliber pitcher quite yet, he’s completely stretched out and we don’t have time to make a change, so he gets the Sunday start against the Reds. Once again, very much not ideal to have him pitch the day before a doubleheader, but the Cardinals really don’t have a choice here.

On Monday, Carlos Martinez and Daniel Poncedeleon will have to be paired together again for the first doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers. There are literally no other options. You can see why Gomber pretty much has to be involved in the rotation earlier than it seems necessary. You then give Flaherty the Tuesday game. And then you give Wednesday to Gomber and Wainwright.

The cool thing about Gomber and Poncedeleon being the second games of doubleheaders is that you can stretch them out as starters while still treating their games as basically bullpen games. So you don’t have to start Ryan Helsley or Alex Reyes, hope they can go two, and just hope nobody struggles to pitch an inning. Gomber and Ponce should at least throw 3 innings and if they last longer, they can due to having their workload built up to withstand it. Maybe not Ponce, who throws 40 pitches an inning, but you get the idea. Still more ideal than a guy whose been in the bullpen all year, which is every other option the Cards have.

And the Cardinals have a doubleheader two games later. So up to this point, you can more or less have seven starters with near full workloads pitch all the games. I’m not sure that’s an option on Friday. On Thursday, following the second doubleheader against the Brewers, the Cardinals will have Dakota Hudson pitching. Or at least under the timeline I imagine. Obviously if the Cardinals do anything different, everything changes. Which will probably happen, but I want to try.

On Friday, Oviedo is next up. Oviedo pitched last Sunday in my timeline. Let’s all accept that whenever I refer to things as happening, I’m simply using the timeline I’ve laid out, not actually saying these things are set in stone. I don’t want to have to put that disclaimer after every guess, so this is my disclaimer for the rest of my post. Anyway, Oviedo pitched on Sunday, but there’s no starter available to pair with him. Six starters have pitched in the last four days, and I’ve hopefully illustrated the Cardinals “only” have seven starters stretched out.

Just wrap your head around that for a minute. The Cardinals will potentially have seven starters who can throw 90-100 pitches by this point and it still won’t be enough. Because they are playing eight games in five days. Can we all just take a moment to appreciate that? I realize we did that earlier in the season, but I don’t think I fully appreciated it because no starters were stretched out. This time, there’s seven. It’s not enough. I’m curious how many moves the Cards may need to make, because Joe Schmo, Ribby the Clown, and Grenadine Peacelove all pitched in that series and they’ve since been cut.

It’s at this point where I stop guessing. Because the Cardinals play Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday without another doubleheader. Why, you may ask, do the Cardinals play a doubleheader on Friday instead of Saturday against the Pittsburgh Pirates? I have no clue. Does this make sense? It does not make sense to me. The Cardinals, coming off two doubleheaders in a three day period, play a doubleheader two days after that. They do this when they have four days to play the Pirates. Why the hell isn’t the doubleheader on Saturday?

The funny part about this, and the reason why I’m writing this post, is that the Cardinals have opposing starters listed through September 17th, with the exception of the second games of doubleheaders. The Cardinals have listed starters through... this Sunday. Then they give up. Or least they’ve given up as of this writing. Maybe they have starters beyond that at this point. And I don’t really blame them for not being sure.

The Cardinals are weirdly well-positioned. Maybe not weirdly. Maybe this was all part of the plan. But they have seven starters who can actually start at this point, and they’re going to need all seven over the next eight days. Maybe Kwang-Hyun Kim will join the rotation at some point in those eight days, though I obviously am not planning on that. That will make things infinitely easier, although again Kim will not be fully up to speed anyway.