The St. Louis Cardinals have clinched the division and have a meaningless series in Pittsburgh standing between them and the Wild Card round. We don’t yet know who the team will play, but it looks likely to be the Phillies.
With that in mind, I want to look the roster decisions the Cardinals must make prior to Friday.
Roster Locks (20)
Pitchers (10): Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Jordan Montgomery, Jose Quintana, Adam Wainwright, Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, Andre Pallante, Steven Matz, Chris Stratton
Infielders (7): Nolan Arenado, Brendan Donovan, Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschmidt, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Andrew Knizner
Outfielders (3): Dylan Carlson, Lars Nootbaar, Corey Dickerson
With a 26 man roster, that leaves us with 6 players. Half of those will be pitchers. The other half will be hitters, and at least 1 of those will be able to play the outfield.
How many LHPs will the team carry and who will they be?
It’s tough to answer this question without knowing who the Cardinals will play. If the Cards play the Brewers, my answer would be “all of them”.
Against right-handed pitching, the Brewers have a 108 wRC+ as a team. Against left-handed pitching, that figure drops to 91. That’s a huge difference.
Now, enter the Phillies. The NL East club has just a 103 wRC+ against righties and a 117 wRC+ against lefties. Carrying a bunch of lefties would play right into their hands. Especially if those lefties haven’t been all that good.
I expect the Phillies to be the opponent which likely means two lefties in the bullpen. I’ve been wrong before but I would be surprised if the Cardinals carried any more than that, especially because the left-handed options aren’t great.
Against the Brewers, I could see one or even two more lefties joining the roster.
With that said, let’s take a look at the decision the Cardinals must make.
#STLCards manager Oliver Marmol said the decision between LHPs Zack Thompson, Jo Jo Romero and Genesis Cabrera for a spot on the PO roster is “a very important one.” All 3 have had swing-and-miss stuff. That competition is still open between the 3 lefties.— John Denton (@JohnDenton555) October 1, 2022
Above, I listed Steven Matz as a lock for the roster. Since returning from injury, he’s made 4 appearances out of the ‘pen and surrendered one run. That’s good enough to keep him on the roster, and quite honestly, he would have needed to look terrible to not be a part of the Wild Card series.
Based on John Denton’s tweet, he will likely be considered the top lefty in the bullpen. I say that because he’s the name notably absent from the lefty competition. The real question then becomes...Who is the second lefty?
To be honest, I can’t believe this is even a debate. Here’s why.
One of these is not like the other. It’s painfully obvious who the better option has been. And not only that, but Thompson has been even better when his lone start of the season is factored out.
Zack Thompson been great this season, but do you know just how great he's been?— Blake Newberry (@bt_newberry) September 30, 2022
If you remove his one start against Pittsburgh, he has a 0.68 ERA in 26 2/3 innings.
He's been lights out as a reliever and is putting himself in great position for a playoff role.
I would be shocked if Thompson isn’t on the roster. We all know what Genesis Cabrera can look like when he’s pitching well but he hasn’t pitched well in a while.
In his 13 innings with Memphis, he racked up a whopping 7.62 ERA. His FIP (3.12) was much better but I don’t know if he is a risk worth taking when Thompson has been solid all season. Based on past performance, I think Cabrera probably has a better chance than Romero, but that only makes him the third choice.
My Pick — Zack Thompson
Who Fills Out the Rest of the Bullpen?
The addition of Zack Thompson gives the pitching staff 11 arms. I will add another one here — Jordan Hicks.
If Hicks is healthy enough to join the roster, then he will make the Wild Card roster. He has a 4.50 ERA as a reliever, but his 3.06 FIP and 3.20 xFIP are a much better sign of his talent. He’s an electric arm. He won’t be left behind if he’s healthy enough to pitch.
That gives us 12 arms. There’s room for one more.
Maybe it’s Cabrera. I could see the Cardinals giving him a shot and by keeping him as one of three lefties, they would limit their reliance on him if he struggles.
If it’s not Cabrera, then the final spot is really between Dakota Hudson and Jake Woodford. Looking at production, Jake Woodford has the edge. He has a better ERA, FIP, and xFIP. The thing is, though, Hudson could get a boost from pitching in the ‘pen. And he looked good in Memphis.
I don’t think the Cardinals have enough faith in Woodford, better production or not, to unseat Hudson. I think Hudson gets the call over Cabrera too, although one blow up in the Wild Card series could cause the team to reevaluate for the next round (if they make it that far).
My Call: Hicks and Hudson
What About the Outfield?
First off, I want to point out that I have Dickerson as a lock. Maybe I’m wrong, and I hope I am, but I don’t see him missing the roster after being a regular starter in September. Now, when I said I hope I’m wrong, I’m not necessarily saying he shouldn’t be on the roster, just that I don’t think he’s good enough to be a lock.
Dickerson has the worst arm in baseball, a below average bat (98 wRC+), and a below average glove (-4 DRS, 0 OAA). Nothing about that is thrilling.
I would prefer to see Alec Burleson over him. He has a spectacular minor league track record, and is hitting the ball hard (91.8 mph exit velocity) despite having little to show for it.
He is firmly on the fringes of the roster though. Before I continue, let me backtrack. Tyler O’Neill is a lock if he’s healthy. My assumption is that he won’t be back in time for the first round. That leaves a very muscular hole in left field and an open roster spot.
Three hitters are needed to fill the final voids.
I expect that to be at least one outfielder and another DH option. The outfield options are Alec Burleson and Ben DeLuzio. I guess Juan Yepez could be considered here too but he’s really more of a DH.
I view the 3 spots like this. Give 1 to a hitter, 1 to a fielder, and 1 to somebody who could start in left field.
The hitter decision comes down to Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman. I don’t think both of them will make the roster, and I think Yepez is the favorite. Gorman got sent down to Triple-A for a reason. And that’s because he had a 47% strikeout rate in September.
Part of the reason is his inability to hit high heat.
This is what his zone looks like against fastballs. Notice the gigantic hole at the top. That’s bad enough on it’s own but it gets worse for Gorman. He won’t be the starter at second base. Brendan Donovan will. That means that any at-bats Gorman takes will be against relievers, who, as a group, tend to throw harder than starters.
That’s just not going to be a good situation for Gorman. Maybe he could get used at DH against right-handers but the Cardinals feel pretty committed to Albert regardless of matchup right now. And, hoenstly, he’s been on a tear so why not?
Because of that, I give Yepez the edge.
Now, I want to settle the outfield decision before getting to the fielder decision. Ben DeLuzio and Alec Burleson are the battle here. This is easy. Give me Burleson all day.
Nothing against DeLuzio but I would much rather have Burleson in left field than DeLuzio. He’s the better hitter even if his production has been worse in his limited time in the majors.
This is where I wish the Cardinals had given Burleson his debut about a month earlier than they did. It would have been nice for him to have another 100+ PAs to get a larger sample size before going into the playoffs, but I still wouldn’t keep him off the roster because of that.
The Cardinals need an option besides Corey Dickerson to start in left field. Yepez doesn’t play defense well enough for that role and DeLuzio’s bat doesn’t profile well enough for a corner spot. Burleson is the answer, even if he is still a bit of an unknown.
This brings us to our last decision - the defensive replacement. Ben Deluzio is a factor here, but so is Paul DeJong. The team isn’t going to enter a series without a bench infielder so, like it or not, DeJong gets the call here.
His role, if he gets one, will be to replace Donovan late in games when the Cardinals are winning. He shouldn’t take an at-bat.
DeLuzio is more of a threat with his legs and he could actually be a more useful player, but the Tyler O’Neill sized hole in left field needs to be filled and I don’t think he’s the one to fill it.
If the Cardinals are comfortable starting Corey Dickerson every game then I think DeLuzio gets the call over Burleson. I don’t think Dickerson should start an entire series (or even one game), so that leaves DeLuzio as the odd man out.
My Call: Yepez, Burleson, and DeJong
This is my prediction. It’s a combination of what I think the Cardinals will do and what I think the Cardinals should do. I could be wrong in multiple instances here since I can see an argument for Cabrera, Woodford, Gorman, and DeLuzio to make the roster.
I’ll end with a quick hitter. Here’s my Wild Card rotation
Against the Brewers — Quintana, Montgomery, Mikolas
Against the Phillies — Mikolas, Quintana, Flaherty
I want an extra lefty against the Brewers but I wouldn’t throw Montgomery against the Phillies. He’s struggled a bit recently and the Phillies hit lefties well. Waino shouldn’t be starting either, which leaves Jack Flaherty.
I wish he had a few more good starts under his belt but he’s looked good recently and I would press him into duty if a game 3 is needed.
Now, I want to hear from you all. Who would you give the final roster spots to? How many lefties do you think the team will carry? Will Paul DeJong make the roster? Who plays left field if Tyler O’Neill is out? Finally, what’s your Wild Card rotation look like?
Let me know in the coments! Thanks for reading! I’m ready to savor every last moment of Albert and Yadi in their final playoff appearances. I hope you are too.