The Cardinals have clinched a post-season appearance for the 4th consecutive season. While there are many concerns with this team (timely hitting, bullpen, bench options), the rotation is probably the least of them. The Cardinals have plenty of options, but what is the best setup for their October rotation?
Adam Wainwright is obviously the #1 pitcher on the team and will be starting game 1, whether it be the 1-game Wild Card matchup or the first game of the NLDS; the team would prefer the NLDS and to bypass the Wild Card game so Wainwright would be available for 2 of the 5 games of the NLDS, if need be. The Wild Card game would push Wainwright to Game 3 at the earliest; Wainwright’s numbers are not good on short rest, so anything earlier would not be advised.
After Wainwright, you have plenty of question marks. Lance Lynn has been starter 1A for the team. John Lackey has the most post-season experience of the remaining pitchers. Shelby Miller has been very good since learning the cutter from Justin Masterson. Michael Wacha was last year’s playoff hero.
Lynn is sitting at 15-10 with a 2.73 ERA this season. He’s posting a healthy, although not elite, 8.0 K/9 and 2.48 K/BB. His splits are not horrible either. At home, he’s sporting a 2.50 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 115.0 innings; on the road, he’s got a 3.05 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 82.2 innings. His K/9 is actually better on the road (9.1) than at home (7.2). His numbers suggest that he could pitch well at home or on the road.
Lackey was a Cardinal killer in last year’s World Series, but he hasn’t been as good since the team acquired him. Since the trade, his ERA has went from 3.60 with Boston to 4.50 with the Cardinals; his WHIP rose from 1.23 to 1.39; his K/9 dropped from 7.6 to 6.7; his HR/9 went from 1.0 to 1.5. Lackey has pretty significant splits. At home (both Fenway Park and Busch Stadium), he’s got a 2.94 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 8.6 K/9; on the road, he’s sitting with a 4.88 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 6.0 K/9. He’s someone you’d rather pitch at home. The X-factor for Lackey is his 19 post-season games, including his 3-1 record last year with Boston. In Division Series, he’s 2-2 with a 2.89 ERA in 8 games; his WHIP has been 1.30 and K/9 6.8.
Miller has been up and down this season. Early on, he was pretty much only throwing his fast ball, which allowed hitters to knock him around. His last handful of starts have been much better; those better starts just happened to line up with Yadier Molina’s return from the DL. Miller’s overall line isn’t that bat at 10-9 with a 3.68 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 6.0 K/9. The K/9 is a little worrisome since it’s dropped from 8.8 last season. That might tie to the early season issues. Miller’s splits are not that significant, but are definitely interesting. He’s 4-5 at home with a 3.41 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 5.4 K/9; he’s 6-4 on the road with a 4.02 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 6.8 K/9. He’s got a better ERA at home, but more wins and better WHIP and K/9 on the road. Miller is probably the back end options right now, even with his recent good pitching.
Wacha is probably expendable this post-season; between the significant missed time and his recent recovery, he’s probably the biggest liability. Wacha has averaged just under 4 innings per start since coming off the DL while sporting a 6.17 ERA. He’s probably better suited to be in the bullpen, so that’s where I’m figuring him.
The other factor to look at would be their success against potential opponents.
As of today, the Cardinals will play the Dodgers in the NLDS. Lynn has struggled against the Dodgers in his career; he’s 3-1 against them in 5 starts, with a 4.50 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, and 11.1 K/9. The wins and K/9 are pretty good; it’s the ERA and WHIP which is worrisome, especially in a short series. Lackey has pitched very well against the Dodgers; he’s 5-3 in 11 games with a 1.93 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 8.0 K/9. Miller has struggled against the Dodgers in 5 games (3 starts); he’s 1-1 with a 6.57 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, and 5.8 K/9.
If the Nationals completely fell off, the Cardinals could meet up with them in the NLDS; it’s more likely that they could face each other in the NLCS. Lynn has looked better against them; again, he’s 3-1 in 5 starts, but his ERA is 3.86, WHIP is 1.19, and K/9 is 10.3. He’s much better against them. Lackey has only faced the Nationals twice; he’s 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 7.1 K/9. Miller looks like an ace against the Nationals; he’s 2-0 in 4 starts with a 0.73 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 9.1 K/9
The Giants are in it for the Wild Card and there is a remote possibility that they could meet up with the Cardinals. Lynn has struggled against them, going 0-3 in 3 starts; he has a 7.98 ERA, 1.84 WHIP and 8.0 K/9 against San Francisco. Lackey’s numbers against the team are pretty good in a small sample size; he’s 1-1 in 2 starts with a 2.57 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 7.7 K/9. Miller has done well against San Francisco; he’s 2-0 in 2 starts with a 1.46 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 8.0 K/9.
The Pirates are the team the Cardinals are most familiar with and the teams could meet up in the post-season for the second consecutive season. Lynn is 5-3 against them, with a 4.71 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and 8.2 K/9; middle of the road for their 4 opponents. Lackey has struggled the most against the Pirates compared to the other matchups; he’s 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 4.8 K/9. Miller has also struggled against the Pirates; in 9 starts, he’s 2-6 with a 4.29 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, and 6.3 K/9.
Since the Dodgers are the most likely opponent and the series would start there, I’d set up the rotation as follows:
- Adam Wainwright: he’s your ace and you want him to go twice.
- Lance Lynn: while Lackey has the playoff experience, Lynn has been better this year and has the better splits; he’d probably give the team a better chance to win on the road.
- John Lackey: the splits were the key; he’s much better at home.
- Shelby Miller: he’s also better at home over his career, even with the mixed numbers of 2014; plus you can’t say that he deserves games 2 or 3 over Lynn and Lackey.
If the Cardinals were to pass the Dodgers in the standings and get home field for the NLDS, I’d switch Lynn and Lackey.