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Should Jaime Garcia have started NLDS Game 2?

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Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny announced on the eve of NLDS that Jaime Garcia would start Game 2 against the Chicago Cubs, 2013 postseason hero Michael Wacha Game 3, and Lance Lynn Game 4. As division champions, the Cardinals sealed a berth in the NLDS, which meant several off-days built in for potential tiebreakers, wild-card game travel, and weather issues before their postseason began. That meant each of their starters was well-rested.

Garcia became ill between that announcement and taking the mound on Saturday for Game 2. From Brian Stull at STL Baseball Weekly:

"Something I’ve been dealing with for the last couple of days–stomach," said Garcia. "The body was just almost nothing unfortunately, but at the same time no excuse. I notified the team right before the game, just what was going on but I was going to pitch–it was my game. I worked so hard all year long for this situation. Unfortunately, it didn’t go my way. But no excuse on that."

Matheny shared that Garcia informed him of the southpaw's stomach issue about an hour before the game:

"I found out about an hour before the game," said Matheny. "He said he was doing okay. He just had a couple of rough nights’ sleep, so we are going to keep a close eye on him. But he wanted to pitch, and he felt good going out there, and you know, really it was fielding that did this. Those five runs were unearned runs, I do believe, but, then we got to the point, too, where it was probably on a baseball decision gonna get him out anyhow, but the medical team also thought it was probably a good idea."

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"We wanted to see what he looked like," said Matheny. "When he went out there, he was in the strike zone, making pitches and getting ground balls, and mostly what we had seen every start he’s been out.

"Like I said, it was more fielding issues that cost him in the long run than anything else. But, yeah, instantly as he came in and told me this, like I said, it was right before we were getting ready to go out, and so we had some plans in place and gave him the option, hey, you good enough to go? And he said, yeah, I’m fine to pitch, but I just want to let you know I’ve been a little off lately, so we’re trying to keep a close eye.

"And then things happened pretty quick, and then the 2-run homer was the cap on it. But there really wasn’t anything that we were seeing up until that point pitching-wise that looked that much out of character."

To be sure, fielding was to blame. Kolten Wong's bizarre throw turned a play that should have ended with the bases empty and two outs into a runner at second and one out. A stolen base and walk later, Garcia looked like a drunk uncle attempting to dance at a wedding reception before lofting the ball into right field, giving the Cubs another free out and another runner in scoring position. The Cardinals' fielding was horrible. St. Louis gave the Cubs five outs in the second inning and, to their credit, Chicago capitalized by plating five runs.

Fielding ensured that Jorge Soler dug in against Garcia in the second inning but defense played no part in the result of Soler's plate appearance. In the first inning, Garcia floated a breaking ball without much break homeward against Soler, who whacked it into the left-field corner for a double. It was one of several Garcia offerings that caught too much of the plate and were too close to belt level in height. Garcia delivered a similar breaking ball in the second and Soler deposited it beyond the outfield wall for a two-run homer. Unearned runs? Sure, but runs on the scoreboard nonetheless. The dinger made it 5-1 Cubs.

Soler twice barreled lackluster Garcia offerings for extra-base hits. But Soler wasn't the only Cub to receive such up and over pitches from the St. Louis lefty. Garcia threw drivable pitches to likely Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant and probable MVP vote-getter Anthony Rizzo as well, though neither Northsider was able to capitalize. From the first batter, Garcia's stuff wasn't sharp. The southpaw didn't look good from the get-go, despite Matheny postgame claims to the contrary.

Joe and I discussed this on the podcast, but I wanted to get the VEB Community's opinion.

As best we can tell, this is the course of events:

  • Matheny announces Garcia will start NLDS Game 2 on Thursday.
  • Garcia contracts a stomach ailment and has trouble sleeping on Thursday and Friday night.
  • Garcia notifies Matheny about an hour before NLDS Game 2 of his illness and problems sleeping.
  • About 45 minutes before game time, Mozeliak learns of Garcia's illness.
  • Management asks Garcia if he is okay to pitch and Garcia says that he can pitch through his illness.
  • Matheny dispatches Lance Lynn, his announced Game 4 starter, to the bullpen about 30 minutes before NLDS Game 2 as Garcia insurance despite having Carlos Villanueva, Tyler Lyons, and Adam Wainwright among his relief options.
  • Matheny decides to watch Garcia closely and doesn't see anything that different from previous starts in the first or second inning.
  • The second inning turns into a fielding circus with the Cubs' run-scoring punctuated by Soler's two-run homer.
  • Matheny makes the baseball decision to remove Garcia. The Cardinals' medical staff opines that it is a good idea to remove him.
Matheny appears to have approached Garcia in a way similar to his method of deciding which relievers to use on a given day. Matheny has other information—how many times the relievers have pitched recently or that Garcia had trouble sleeping for two consecutive nights due to stomach illness—but he puts the most weight in whether the player tells him that he is okay to pitch. So Matheny went with Garcia instead of calling an audible and starting Lynn, Lyons, or even Wacha (all of whom were well-rested).

What considerations are there to calling an audible and starting another pitcher?

There's preparation, both mental and physical. Garcia was the announced starter. Both he and catcher Yadier Molina prepared for Game 2 as if he were the starter. Neither Lynn nor Lyons prepared to start the game against Chicago. That being said, there is not a catcher better suited for such a last minute switch than Molina. And if the new Game 2 starter were Lynn, his steady diet of fastballs likely requires less nuance in terms of strategy. Further, the preparation component cuts both ways. The Cubs would have been preparing for two days for Garcia, not Lynn. Getting a righty slinging fourseamers after preparing for a sinkerballing southpaw would have been a different look than what Chicago was anticipating.

Baseball media members tell us over and over that starting pitchers are creatures of habit. They like their routines. It stands to reason that Lynn did not follow his typical starting-day routine on Saturday in the hours leading up to Game 2. Would he have been physically and mentally prepared to start?

In the end, Matheny did what he so often does. The manager trusted his player's assessment of physical ability to perform. Garcia said he was good to go. So Matheny started him despite his illness and related trouble sleeping.

What do you think? If you were the St. Louis manager, would you have made the same decision? Please vote and share your thoughts in the comments.