Now that the Cards have clinched the 2nd Wild Card spot, I thought it would be as good a time as any to discuss who should make the roster for the Wild Card Game. Remember that because the Wild Card Game is a part of the playoffs, clubs are allowed to set a roster specifically for that game, and then switch it for any subsequent series.
The 2012 Cardinal club played in the first ever National League Wild Card Game, and here is how manager Mike Matheny set things up:
Mitchell Boggs (R), Sam Freeman (L), Joe Kelly (R), Kyle Lohse (R), Lance Lynn (R), Jason Motte (R), Edward Mujica (R), Trevor Rosenthal (R), Mark Rzepczynski (L), Fernando Salas (R)
POSITION PLAYERS (15)
Bryan Anderson, Carlos Beltran, Matt Carpenter, Adron Chambers, Allen Craig, Tony Cruz, Daniel Descalso, David Freese, Matt Holliday, Ryan Jackson, Jon Jay, Pete Kozma, Yadier Molina, Shane Robinson, Skip Schumaker.
Say, what? That’s 3 catchers and a 7-man bench. This unusual roster can, of course, be explained by the fact that not only does the club not need as many pitchers in one play-in game as it does in a full series, but it also does not need as many starters. The Cardinal rotation going into the final week of the season consisted of Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, Lance Lynn and Adam Wainwright. Lohse started the Wild Card Game, and Carpenter, Garcia, and Wainwright were left off of the roster. The club had Kelly and Lynn, who had been recent starters, for long relief protection, but everyone else was a short man. A 5-man bench was standard at the time, but Jackson and Anderson were extra adds to the position-player corps. When the NLDS came around, Freeman was dropped from the pitching staff, the three starters who had been left off were added back, and both Jackson and Anderson were cut.
Here’s how the pitcher number breaks down for the clubs since 2012 for the Wild Card Game:
2012: Braves (9), Cardinals (10), Orioles (11), Rangers (11)
2013: Pirates (9), Reds (10), Indians (11), Rays (9)
2014: Giants (10), Pirates (9), Athletics (8), Royals (9)
2016: Giants (11), Mets (9), Blue Jays (10), Orioles (10)
2017: Diamondbacks (10), Rockies (10), Twins (11), Yankees (10)
2018: Cubs (11), Rockies (10), Athletics (11), Yankees (10)
2019: Brewers (10), Nationals (9), Athletics (11), Rays (10)
The maximum number of pitchers a club has rostered since the creation of the Wild Card Game has been 11. The most common number of pitchers is 10. That was with a 25-man roster, and now the clubs are allowed to roster 26 players. Now one would think a club could get by with about 8 pitchers easily. Ideally, the club wouldn’t even need that many, because seven pitching changes in even a normal game is exceedingly rare, and a club would work its hardest to use it’s best available pitcher. The club would expect its best available pitcher to at least pitch a few innings.
But the club does have to prepare for contingencies. The first is that the starter suffers a serious injury very early in the game, and the second is that the starter will give up about 3 or 4 runs right away. To guard against those two eventualities, a club should bring along at least one additional starter who has been properly rested. The club also has to think about the possibility that the game will go into extra innings. Although the majors have had two regular seasons now with the “runner on second in extra innings” rule, that rule does not operate in the postseason. The club must prepare for the possibility that the game will go into multiple extra innings.
Taking into account the fact that the roster is trimmed down to 26 from 28, and balancing that against the facts and circumstances that apply to the Cards, here is how I think it could shake out:
Genesis Cabrera (L), Jack Flaherty, Giovanny Gallegos, Luis Garcia, Dakota Hudson, T.J. McFarland (L), Miles Mikolas, Andrew Miller (L), Alex Reyes, Adam Wainwright, Kodi Whitley
POSITION PLAYERS (15)
Andrew Knizner, Yadier Molina, Ali Sanchez, Nolan Arenado, Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Rondon, Edmundo Sosa, Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson, Lars Nootbaar, Tyler O’Neill, Justin Williams
One would think that even if the club was going to bullpen the Wild Card Game, they could get by with 10 pitchers. But I predict 11 pitchers for the simple reason that the club had 13 position players on the roster as of the last game of the regular season, with only a 5-man bench. There are only four position players on the 40-man roster that were not already with the club: C Ivan Herrera, C Ali Sanchez, OF Austin Dean and OF Justin Williams. I don’t think the club would use Herrera over Sanchez here. Dean has been hurt most of the year, was just placed on the 7-day IL again on September 21st and has yet to be activated. He might be healthy enough to play by the time the Wild Card Game rolls around, but I picked Williams because he’s the only other healthy 40-man option.
What about Juan Yepez? The club could theoretically roster him. Although he’s not automatically eligible for the postseason because he was not on the 40-man roster or major league 60-day IL as of August 31st, the club has several such eligible players that are injured. Because Yepez was in the Cardinal organization as of August 31st, he could be selected to the postseason roster as an injury replacement. I don’t think the Cards will do it. For one thing, he would have to be added to the 40-man roster. It is true that the Cards will have to add him anyway on the 5th day following the final day of the World Series to stop him from becoming an automatic Rule 9 minor league free agent. Adding him for the Wild Card Game, though, would require the Cards to DFA someone. It’s not as simple as transferring Wade LeBlanc from the 10-day IL to the 60-day IL, because clubs are not permitted to use the 60-day IL after the regular season is over. An obvious DFA candidate would be Justin Miller, who is both out of options and eligible for arbitration. While I don’t see the Cards using Miller in a postseason series, Yepez wouldn’t be on the roster for a series beyond the Wild Card Game. The club is unlikely to use a DFA just to add Yepez for one game, particularly since Yepez has no prior major league plate appearances.
As for the pitching choices, I picked Mikolas as the most-rested back-up starter to Adam Wainwright and left Hudson on as the long man. That left Happ, Kim, Lester and Woodford as the four pitchers that were on the regular season roster for the final day that would not be on the Wild Card Game roster. My only real hot take is that Flaherty replaces Kim on the roster. Kim has been barely used, Hudson should be enough if the club needs 3 innings or more, other relievers can pitch 2 innings, and I think the club trusts Jack more to pitch one or two innings, if necessary.
Let me know in the comments what you think. Do I have it pegged about right, or is my logic off? How would you all handle the roster?