Friday, September 28, 2012
Picking NL wild-card rosters
By Jim Bowden
Will Chris Carpenter take the hill for the Cardinals in the NL wild-card playoff?
In the inaugural season of the wild-card sudden-death playoff, managers and GMs will be setting their rosters for a one-game series with the notion that their team must be prepared for any contingency. What if the game goes multiple extra innings? Which players match up best against the opposition in particular situations? Are there enough speed options? There will be difficult decisions to make for both the National League and American League clubs.
Today, let’s look at the NL wild-card game between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals that is all but set in stone at this point. We’ll try to predict what their wild-card rosters will look like and where their tough decisions will be. Remember, this is being treated as a separate round of the playoffs, so teams will have a chance to adjust their rosters again for the division series.
Starting pitching: The Braves probably will carry three starting pitchers: Kris Medlen (who's slated to start), Tim Hudson (who is set to start Game 1 of the NLDS if they win the wild-card game) and Mike Minor. Hudson is only on the roster in case of injury or an unexpected early exit by Medlen, and Minor serves as a third left-handed reliever just in case they have a need in the fifth or sixth inning.
Position players:Jose Constanza should win one of the final two spots on the roster because of his speed, especially important if they need a pinch runner. Costanza can go from first to third on a single or score from first on a double. J.C. Boscan also could make the team because they might want a third catcher, something former Braves manager Bobby Cox always favored in the postseason. Lyle Overbay makes the team to replace Matt Diaz, who underwent season-ending surgery Aug. 16. Overbay was in the organization Aug. 31, which makes him postseason eligible.
Possible weakness: The Braves’ bench is heavily left-handed. This offers another reason for Boscan to make the team, as manager Fredi Gonzalez can use David Ross as a second right-handed hitter off the bench after Reed Johnson, leaving Boscan available to catch.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals' wild-card roster doesn’t have as many close calls at the back end because of their limited number of September call-ups and the injuries they’ve suffered to key players such as Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal. The Cardinals’ biggest decision is who is will start the wild-card game. When the Cardinals clinch will be a factor in that decision, because that could change who is available to pitch.
Starting pitching: Many pundits believe Chris Carpenter will get the nod simply based on his performance in last year’s postseason, as well as his past two starts despite sitting out much of the year with a shoulder injury. However, Kyle Lohse has been the Cardinals' most consistently strong starter over the past two years and right now is on schedule to possibly pitch that game. Adam Wainwright has to be in the discussion as well, although he hasn’t pitched well over the past month, and while Lance Lynn has been terrific in his past three starts, he can pitch out of the bullpen, too. No matter who Matheny decides to pitch that game, don’t be surprised if all four make the roster.
Who gets left off:Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook. With no slam dunk starter, Matheny might end up using two of his starters before turning it over to the bullpen anyway. In elimination games like this, managers tend to have quicker hooks than normal.
Position players: The Cardinals probably will carry three catchers, with Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz the obvious first two choices. The third one probably will be Bryan Anderson based on his bat. The Cardinals really don’t have any decisions to make in the infield because of the injuries to Furcal and Berkman, and both Pete Kozma and Ryan Jackson will make the roster with Kozma starting at shortstop.
In the outfield Adron Chambers and Shane Robinson will both make the team. Chambers’ speed makes him a no-brainer and Robinson’s right-handed bat is important, because like the Braves, the Cardinals have a predominantly left-handed bench led by Matt Carpenter, Chambers, Anderson and Daniel Descalso.
Who gets left off: Steven Hill, Lance Berkman, Rafael Furcal (injuries).
Possible weakness: Matheny, like Gonzalez, has a heavily left-handed bench. And in the late innings, Matheny might have to pinch hit for Skip Schumaker, Daniel Descalso or Jon Jay late in the game if the Braves bring in one of their dominant lefty relievers, Jonny Venters or Eric O’Flaherty, in what might be a game-changing matchup. So it’s important Matheny has right-handed hitter to counter that type of move.