By Rob Rains
Most of the players who will be named to the Cardinals roster for the Division Series matchup against the Braves will be automatic choices.
There is no question about who the eight starting position players will be, unless there is a lingering problem with Kolten Wong’s hamstring injury that will sideline him longer than expected.
Likewise, the starting pitchers the Cardinals will use in the best-of-five series is a lock, even if there might be some debate about how they will line up other than Jack Flaherty going in game two after having to pitch game 162 on Sunday to win the division.
Four of the spots off the bench will be filled by Matt Carpenter, Jose Martinez, Matt Wieters and Yairo Munoz. There would appear to be seven relievers assured of being in the bullpen – Carlos Martinez, John Brebbia, John Gant, Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsley from the right side and left-handers Andrew Miller and Tyler Webb.
Add up all of those players and the total comes to 23 of the 25 players who will be on the roster.
While there are multiple ways the Cardinals could go with those two final picks, a case can be made for selecting two players who really did not spend much time in the major-leagues this season – Rangel Ravelo and Andrew Knizner.
Here are some of the reasons why adding both players, and leaving others off, makes sense:
In a five-game series, especially with a day off between games two and three and another between game four and game five, the team should not need more than seven relievers. Even before he had to leave his last start in the second inning because of a shoulder strain, there appeared to be little reason to add Michael Wacha to the roster, but the injury has made that decision for the Cardinals.
With Wacha scratched, the only other pitcher the Cardinals probably should consider adding to the group of seven relievers is left-hander Genesis Cabrera, which would give them a third left-handed option other than Miller or Webb. The Braves, however, have only two left-handed hitters in their regular lineup – Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis – so the presence of Miller and Webb should be enough. Martinez would pitch the ninth inning no matter who is hitting, and Gallegos also has performed well against left-handed batters this season.
So if the decision is to go with 11 pitchers, that opens up the debate about which two extra players to add to the bench. The only variance the Cardinals could take in their starting lineup is if they wanted to insert Carpenter at third base and move Tommy Edman to right field and Dexter Fowler to center field in place of Harrison Bader for some of the games, especially against right-handed starters.
That’s even more of a reason why it makes sense to add Knizner, a third catcher, to the roster – because it would free up Wieters to become a left-handed option as a pinch-hitter. If the Cardinals were to go with only two catchers, they would be severely limited in how they could use Wieters because they would not want to be left without a catcher in case Yadier Molina happened to catch a foul ball in the wrong place and had to come out of a game.
Knizner, most likely, would not play but adding him over say, somebody who wouldn’t pitch, just seems to make sense because of how the Cardinals could then use Wieters, who might be able to impact the outcome of a game coming off the bench.
Adding Knizner would leave one open spot on the 25-man roster, and Ravelo seems to make the most sense.
In limited opportunities, Ravelo has proved to be an effective pinch-hitter, delivering a quality at-bat in almost every chance he has had, even if it did not always result in a hit. As a pinch-hitter, he has gone 5-of-20, with two doubles and a home run with the Cardinals.
Ravelo, as a pinch-hitting option, would seem to fill that last roster spot better than somebody like Randy Arozarena, who would almost certainly be used only as a pinch-runner, or Tyler O’Neill, who had a brief hot streak in July but really hasn’t done much since. The only two players who the Cardinals probably would like to pinch-run for in a postseason series would be Carpenter, which Munoz could do, and Molina, which wouldn’t happen because they would not want to take Molina out of the game.
Adding Ravelo would give the Cardinals right-handers Martinez and Ravelo as pinch-hitting options and Carpenter and Wieters available from the left side, a pretty good combination for manager Mike Shildt to pick from. He also would still have protection in the infield, with Munoz and Edman available to play anywhere, and in the outfield, with Fowler or Edman available to play center and Martinez as an emergency option in right, with Knizner there as well in case something happened to Molina.
The Cardinals will have to set the roster – which can be changed for the NL Championship Series should they advance – on Thursday morning prior to game one in Atlanta.
They could still have Cabrera and a position player such as Arozarena travel with them and continue to work out in case they do have to replace an injured player before the next round.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports