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Who pitches when?

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A look at the Cardinals’ rotation as we head into the final week of the regular season

St Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

I know it’s already late September, but it still feels strange to be writing about the postseason beginning next week. Yet here we are, with the Cardinals in a sprint-but-more-accurately-a-collapse-to-the-ground-in-exhaustion to the finish. (If it ends up affecting the rest of this piece, I’m writing this before Monday night’s game, by the way.) By the time you’re reading these words, the Cardinals will have seven* games remaining in the regular season.

While you were using Google Calendar for productive things, I was working out the Cardinals’ rotation order and who has started (or is expected to start) when from last Monday through the end of the opening round best-of-three Wild Card series.

If the image doesn’t show up well on your device, I wrote out all of the information below.

Monday, 9/14: KK and Ponce de Leon @ MIL

Tuesday, 9/15: Flaherty @ MIL

Wednesday, 9/16: Wainwright and Oviedo @ MIL

Thursday, 9/17: Hudson @ MIL

Friday, 9/18: Martínez @ PIT and Ponce de Leon “vs.” PIT

Saturday, 9/19: KK @ PIT

Sunday, 9/20: Flaherty @ PIT

Monday, 9/21: Wainwright @ KC

Tuesday, 9/22: Gomber @ KC

Wednesday, 9/23: Martínez @ KC

Thursday, 9/24: KK vs. MIL

Friday, 9/25: Flaherty “@” MIL and TBD vs. MIL

Saturday, 9/26: Wainwright vs. MIL

Sunday, 9/27: TBD vs. MIL

Monday, 9/28: Martínez and TBD @ DET*

Tuesday, 9/29: No game

Wednesday, 9/30: WC Series Game 1

Thursday, 10/1: WC Series Game 2

Friday, 10/2: WC Series Game 3

The pieces seem to slide into place for the Cardinals pretty nicely. If the Cardinals advance to the playoffs, Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright would be ready to go on the standard four days’ rest for Games 1 and 2, respectively. After that, Kwang Hyun Kim would presumably start a hypothetical Game 3, especially with Dakota Hudson’s season likely over due to a forearm injury.

Everything beyond those three, however, becomes a bit messier. Austin Gomber and Carlos Martínez are listed as the probable starters over the next two days against the Royals, but who (if any individual “starter”) takes the second game against the Brewers on Friday or the series finale on Sunday is anybody’s guess. The simplest path (if the Cardinals for whatever reason wanted to avoid bullpen games) would be to activate Daniel Ponce de Leon from the taxi squad to start alongside Flaherty on Friday, then start Gomber again on Sunday.

That sounds headache-free enough until we discuss the asterisks I’ve sprinkled throughout this story. At the moment, the Cardinals’ schedule only contains 58 games, but it’s my understanding that unless St. Louis has already clinched a specific seed in the NL playoff bracket, they’ll need to play one or possibly two games at Detroit as well. From Anne Rogers for MLB.com last week:

Sept. 28, the Monday immediately following the regular season, is an open date, providing some flexibility. If either or both of those games have any implications for qualifying or seeding for either the Tigers or Cardinals, then the games would be scheduled for that day at Comerica Park.

Given the Cardinals are among the heap of NL teams currently in a virtual tie, it seems fairly likely they will be traveling to Detroit once their series in Milwaukee wraps up. How that affects their pitching plans will depend on where exactly the team finds themselves in the standings after this week. If those games are to decide if the Cardinals will be, say, the 4th seed as opposed to the 5th, it makes no sense to burn any of your key pitchers days ahead of the Wild Card round. But if the Cardinals need to win those games just to qualify for postseason play, it’s all hands on deck, of course. Would that mean Kim on short rest becomes an option? Assuming the Cardinals don’t want Johan Oviedo starting a de facto elimination game, Martínez paired with a bullpen game seems like the most plausible course of action for a Tigers doubleheader.

It’s definitely not an ideal situation nor one that many Cardinals fans necessarily feel comfortable with, especially following a host of injuries to both the starting and relief corps. Like I said before the season began, the Cardinals may not have the best rotation in the division, but their consistent ability to produce pitching depth is quite remarkable. It’s safe to say a team running a 95 wRC+ (that also had to weather a 17-day COVID-19 outbreak) wouldn’t have a winning record right now without pitching depth to carry them.