The St. Louis Cardinals could be facing a dilemma when they get to Game 4 of the World Series, one that could easily have been avoided if Mike Matheny had taken Adam Wainwright out of Game 1 when it got out of hand early.
I am speaking, of course, about whether the Cardinals should bring their No. 1 starter back on short rest for a second go-round with the Boston Red Sox. Assuming the Sox don’t sweep, we know Wainwright will pitch again, but this time in the friendly confines of Busch Stadium.
The only question is whether it happens on three days of rest on Sunday or full rest for Game 5 Monday. It would seem that Matheny’s choices for Game 4 come down to his ace (Wainwright) and Lance Lynn. Joe Kelly would have been in the mix, but Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the right-hander will start Game 3.
The choice involving Wainwright will almost certainly come down to where the series stands heading into Game 4. If the Cardinals are down 3-0, Matheny will have to go all-in the rest of the series, and it would make sense to throw Wainwright.
As Goold noted, the situation will likely determine who starts Game 4. If the Cardinals are leading, or even facing a 2-1 deficit, it could allow Matheny some freedom to go with a lesser starter hoping to catch lightning in a bottle and potentially throw Wainwright with a chance to take a 3-2 series lead back to Boston.
The problem, however, comes from Wainwright staying in Game 1 long enough to throw 95 pitches over five innings. It’s not a huge total by any means, but it's enough to give the Cardinals pause before making a final decision.
To his credit, Wainwright wasn't blaming anyone else for the debacle that was Game 1. He told reporters, via MLB.com, that the loss fell on him.
Tonight was a clear case of the starting pitcher -- me -- going out there and setting the wrong tone. It was terrible. You cannot walk the leadoff hitter of the game [Jacoby Ellsbury], especially a guy who is as dangerous as he is on the basepaths.
It was also an understandable decision, in some regards, to keep Wainwright in the game. Matheny doesn’t want to blow his bullpen out in Game 1, especially with a rookie, even one as good as Michael Wacha, starting Game 2 against a potent Boston lineup.
So now we have to wonder whether or not the Cardinals would be better served by throwing all caution to the wind and use Wainwright in Game 4, or if Lynn would provide a better option?
Wainwright has no history in the regular season of pitching on short rest. He has pitched eight full seasons in the big leagues, excluding the 2011 season when he didn’t pitch due to Tommy John surgery, all with the Cardinals. The right-hander didn’t become a starter until his second year in 2007.
Given the strict rules that teams usually place on their starting pitchers, not to mention the depth the Cardinals have had in the rotation for years, Wainwright being held for every fifth day shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.
The Cardinals have never used Wainwright on short rest in the postseason, either. This year marks the third time since being converted to a starter seven years ago that he’s pitched in the playoffs (2009, 2012, 2013).
In that time, the Cardinals have kept him going either every fifth day or for Game 1 of a series, depending on how early the team clinched and moved to the next round. They didn’t use him against Los Angeles early in the NLCS, holding him until Game 3 on normal rest after he started the decisive fifth game against Pittsburgh the previous round.
The Fallback Options
The Cardinals have a slew of options to choose from for Game 4. Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller are both good enough to start a World Series game.
Unfortunately, we can all but scratch Miller’s name off the list. The rookie right-hander hasn’t started a game since September 25 against Washington. He was effective in that game, though hardly dominant, going six innings, allowing four hits, three walks and three strikeouts.
The Cardinals appear to have mandated that Miller’s innings be severely limited, if not outright cut off, in the postseason. He has pitched in just one game, throwing one inning in a 7-1 blowout loss against Pittsburgh in Game 2 of the NLDS, so far in the playoffs.
Miller’s appearance against the Pirates came on October 4, so the odds of the Cardinals using him in an extended role more than three weeks later are slim to none.
It is also understandable that Matheny would feel some reluctance to turn things over to Miller, who wore down in the second half of the season.
However, I would argue that if the Cardinals had no plan for Miller in the NLCS or World Series, they shouldn't waste a roster spot on him. They didn’t even bother to give him an inning or two in Game 1 of the World Series, when it would have made sense just to get him work against a good lineup and save some of the other important arms Matheny decided to use late in that game.
Let's come back to the debate between Kelly and Lynn, who is guaranteed a start now. It doesn’t appear Matheny has a lot of confidence in Lynn right now, as he isn't listed as a starter in the series and may only get in a game out of the bullpen, but he might warrant a little more confidence than Kelly at this point.
|Player||G (GS)||IP||ERA||K-BB||HR Allowed|
Kelly last started on October 16 in Game 5 of the NLCS, losing to the Dodgers after giving up seven hits (two home runs) and four runs (all earned) in five innings. He appears to have the faith of Matheny, who continues to throw him out there despite better options like Miller.
Lynn's ERA is high, but that is mostly the result of his first postseason start against Pittsburgh when he allowed five runs in 4.1 innings. In his two subsequent appearances, opponents have just seven hits and two runs in 7.1 innings.
Another knock against Kelly is the way he pitches. His style, as a pitch-to-contact groundball guy isn’t very effective against the Red Sox.
|vs. GB Pitchers||967||.302||.364||.442|
All of this paints a very dangerous picture for Matheny and the Cardinals as they try to decide what to do with Lynn and Wainwright. They also have to be cognizant of not blowing out the bullpen by giving the ball to an inferior pitcher who can’t get through three innings.
Kelly isn’t the definition of an innings eater. He is someone who can look good against the right lineup, though that wouldn’t appear to be Boston’s, even if that group will be at less than full strength due to playing in a National League park.
What History Tells Us
My B/R colleague Zach Rymer did an extensive breakdown of using pitchers on short rest in the playoffs since the year 2000 and how it changes, if at all, their performance compared to throwing on the traditional four days of rest.
Rymer’s conclusion found that 54 starts made by pitchers on short rest, excluding those who were brought back after being taken out early in a game that was delayed by rain and other random variances that would skew results, hasn't worked out well for the pitcher or the team.
Of those 54 games, the starters have lasted an average of 5.1 innings with an ERA of 4.80, WHIP of 1.42 and team record of just 20-34.
Even with the assumption that every pitcher is different and shouldn't be held to the same standard as everyone else, that is a hefty sample size to judge by. It also doesn't help matters that Matheny left Wainwright in Game 1 long enough to throw 95 pitches.
Wainwright averaged 104 pitchers per game in 2013, per Fangraphs, so it's not like Matheny held him back enough to ensure he could pitch on short rest, if that was even a consideration.
I was in favor of Wainwright being taken out early in Game 1 when it became obvious it wasn't going to be St. Louis' night. Some might say that was in the second inning, after the score had reached 5-0.
It turns out those people would have been right, but even if Matheny had taken Wainwright out after the Cardinals failed to cash in with the bases loaded and one out in the top half of the fourth inning, that would have saved Wainwright 26 pitches for a total of 69.
A small number like that would have made it much more manageable for the Cardinals to use Wainwright on short rest. Instead, it appears they will have to go with a lesser starting pitcher in Game 4 as a result.
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