After weeks of speculation, the Cardinals 25-man postseason roster (at least for the Division Series) is here. If you haven't seen it yet, it breaks down like this:
Starters: Lackey, J. Garcia, Wacha, Lynn
Relievers: Rosenthal, Siegrist, Broxton, Wainwright, Maness, Villanueva, Lyons
Position Players: 14
Catchers: Molina, Cruz
Infielders: Carpenter, Peralta, Wong, Reynold, Moss, G. Garcia
Outfielders: Holliday, Heyward, Grichuk, Pham, Piscotty, Jay
As it turns out, that's almost exactly what I predicted in the roster poll. My only miss: I had Choate instead of Villanueva, figuring that Choate's supposed role as a lefty-specialist (though his results have not supported that) would give him the edge. But Choate has not been good, and if you want the last man in your bullpen to be a garbage man, Villanueva is your guy.
On the whole, I feel pretty good about this roster. There's no Shelby Miller Honorary Last Man in the bullpen spot, as there has been the last two years. It seems fairly reflective of who the best guys are right now, rather than deferring to things like "guys who have been there," which would likely have landed Adams and Kozma on the roster.
On first glance, this roster answered some questions for me about the current state of the Cardinals and how Mozeliak/Matheny plan to deploy them, but it also raised some questions. Here's my initial thoughts:
Yadi must be pretty okay
Not only is Yadier Molina on the roster, but he and Tony Cruz are the only catchers on the roster. That suggests the team must be reasonably confident in his health, and in fact I'd bet we will see Yadi doing the lion's share of the catching.
It's oddly reminiscent of last season, when Yadi missed significant time with a thumb injury and was a question mark for the postseason roster. In the end, Yadi and Cruz were the only two catchers on that NLDS roster, even though the team had brought in A.J. Pierzinski. Molina started every game of the NLDS. Pierzinski was added to the NLCS roster, but it was because Sam Freeman was deemed ineffective out of the pen and Pierzinski was, disturbingly, probably the best bat they could add. Molina started the first two games of the NLCS, then went down to a strained oblique.
Molina's bat wasn't spectacular last postseason, but his thumb remained healthy enough for him to play, so I assume he will be able to do the same this year.
Grichuk will play right field; Piscotty will play first
The Cardinals brass have made it clear in several interviews that Randal Grichuk will not play center field, and strongly hinted that Jason Heyward will start there regularly. So if they're going to the trouble of moving Heyward, we can assume they do not plan to start Pham or Jay.
Stephen Piscotty will start every game - I think we can be fairly certain of this. So the question becomes, do you start Piscotty at right and some version of the MossReynolds at first, or do you put Piscotty at first and Grichuk in right?
In Grichuk, Moss and Reynolds, you've got players who have been worth 3.1, 0.6 and -0.1 WAR respectively. Grichuk is by far the bat you want to get into the lineup. Matheny could also "play the match-ups," starting Grichuk once (or twice) against the lefty Lester, then going with Moss against the righties. But neither player has had massive platoon splits this season, and Grichuk has been so much better that his numbers against righties are still better than Moss's.
Assuming Grichuk can make throws from right field, I expect we will see him there nearly every game. Might we see a Brandon Moss or even a Mark Reynolds start at first base? Sure. We might even see Pham or Jay get a start in the outfield. But I'd wager Grichuk in right and Piscotty at first will the the most frequent lineup.
This is actually a fairly formidable bench
Assuming the primary starting lineup I suggested above, here's how this year's bench stacks up vs. last year's NLDS bench:
2014: Cruz, Descalso, Kozma, Bourjos, Taveras (sigh)
2015: Cruz, Reynolds, Moss, Garcia, Pham, Jay
That's not just an extra bat, it's a lot more potential for damage. When it comes to pinch hitters - especially in the postseason - I always think of that situation in the late innings when the pitcher's spot comes up with two outs and nobody on base. You're not really going to be starting a rally. What you need is, as Earl Weaver put it, "them big c***suckers who can hit the ball out of the ballpark."
In fact, that's almost exactly the situation last season when Oscar Taveras did this. But he was the only guy in that lineup you could really even hope would drive himself in. Reynolds, Moss and Pham are all guys with some pop in their bat. Jon Jay will take "a professional at-bat," and we can hope even still has some of the contact skill he's shown in the past. Garcia - while he's really here as a defensive backup anyway - has been very effective as a pinch hitter this season (SSS asterisk). And Tony Cruz, well... he's still Tony Cruz.
The Cardinals have more weapons on the bench than they did last season, and given some of the positional flexibility as well, the potential to work some favorable match-ups in the late innings.
How will the bullpen be used?
We all know Mike Matheny loves to have roles for the pitchers in his bullpen. "This is my closer, this is my 8th inning guy, this is the guy I won't use under any circumstances..."
The addition of Wainwright and, to some extent, the omission of Choate, muddies just a bit what those roles will be. Rosenthal will be the closer. Siegrist, I would assume, remains the 8th inning guy. I would guess Wainwright comes in as the 7th inning guy, ahead of Broxton and Maness. And maybe that's all there is to it. However...
If Wainwright continues to look, well, Wainwrighty - that's got to make you think about using him later in games. Kevin Siegrist has been very effective this season. But when you've also got @UncleCharlie50 as an option..? Even beyond that, if Waino is throwing strikes and getting 1-2-3 innings, and Rosenthal is walking leadoff men, how many games are you going to go before you tell Adam to pick out some closer music?
This is also a fairly unusual bullpen in that there are really no situational specialists. Of your two lefties, Siegrist has been a full-inning setup man all season, with a fairly strong reverse-platoon split this season (though not much of a split for his career). Tyler Lyons would seem most suited to the role of a long man, and doesn't have a strong platoon split anyway.
Seth Maness will likely be used in his somewhat dubious situational role as "double-play specialist." And while the extent to which inducing double-plays as a skill is certainly questionable, with two pitchers in the pen who are conditioned as starters, Maness is probably the best option in the event you need someone to get hot quick and go in mid-inning anyway.
Between the question of where you plug Wainwright into the chain and without the certainty of having a few guys pegged for situational roles, I think there could be some real questions about how the bullpen is used.
Anyway, those are my immediate conclusions and questions based on the 25-man playoff roster. Some of it seems pretty clear to me, in other cases I'm trying to read tea leafs. What do you think?