Forecasting the Cardinals First-Round Roster

Forecasting the Cardinals First-Round Roster

Which 25 players will Tony La Russa select to lead into the National League Division Series?

With every at-bat and inning pitched by those on the bubble, there is a bit more data from which to try to predict the St. Louis Cardinals' roster for the League Division Series (LDS). However with time running out, I have decided to offer my predictions on those in and out right here and now.

For those that missed it, please refer to my September 14 article, "Cardinals Post-Season Roster History", in which I broke down the details of Tony La Russa's selections over 15 rounds of seven playoff seasons with the Cardinals.

Despite at least one conflicting national media report, I am still assuming the Cardinals will head into the LDS with 11 pitchers and 14 position players. That mix could change in subsequent rounds, however. A factor to consider is the need for only three starting pitchers in the first round, growing to four in the League Championship Series and World Series.

In any prediction piece, assumptions have to be made. Such is the case here. You may certainly disagree with one or more of these, but at least understand they helped drive the thinking behind the predictions made below.

Assumptions

1. The Cardinals will still carry at least five starters in the LDS even though they plan to use only four in that role.
2. In roster decisions, ties go to the experienced player.
3. All prospective players are healthy enough to play. This is debatable in Troy Glaus' case, but that is what I am going with.

There are also some roster guidelines to be aware of.

Guidelines

1. The pool of potential players includes anyone in the organization. As long as at least one player from the August 31 roster plus injured players on the 40-man is deemed injured for the LDS, any other player can be substituted in for him.
2. Having said that, realistically only the 32 players currently active on the expanded 25-man roster have any chance of seeing LDS action, so in essence, this becomes another assumption.

The predictions

Here they are, with commentary following. I broke the 32 players into three groups, called "Locks", "Leaning in" and "Leaning out". The first two groups total 25, of which 11 are pitchers.

Locks (19 = 7 + 12)
Starting pitchers Carpenter Wainwright Pineiro
Relief pitchers Franklin Reyes Miller McClellan
Catchers Molina LaRue
Starrting infielders Pujols Schumaker Ryan DeRosa
Reserve infielders Lugo Thurston
Starting outfielders Holliday Rasmus Ludwick
Reserve outfielders Ankiel
Leaning in (6 = 4 + 2)
Starter/swing men Lohse Smoltz
Relief pitchers Hawksworth Motte
Reserve infielders Freese* Glaus
Leaning out (7)
Swing men Boggs Wellemeyer Thompson
Relief pitchers Kinney*
Catchers Pagnozzi*
Reserve infielders K Greene T Greene*
* Not eligible without another player being disabled

Assuming Matt Pagnozzi has no chance to make the roster as a third catcher, decisions sit in three areas, what I call "swing men", relievers and reserve infielders.

Swing men

The Cardinals currently have eight pitchers active that can start. Since only four starters are needed, the other four are competing for likely one long relief spot on the LDS roster.

My prediction is that La Russa and Dave Duncan will go with the best starter not starting. That would mean both Kyle Lohse and John Smoltz would be active. Both have previously pitched in relief during the post-season. Realistically, if the starters do their jobs, one may not see any LDS action, though.

That puts three others on the outs: Mitchell Boggs, Todd Wellemeyer and Brad Thompson. Of the three, I think Thompson will be the toughest decision as he is playoff-tested, having pitched for the club in both the 2005 and 2006 post-seasons.

Yet there are now others who can do his job better than he. In another indicator, Brad has appeared just nine times over the last two months or about once per week. His last outing was ten days ago.

Relievers

Like Josh Kinney three years ago, Blake Hawksworth came from basically nowhere to cement a prominent place in the Cardinals bullpen. I wanted to call him a lock, but he is still a rookie with some veteran competition.

Another rookie is Jason Motte. A month ago, I almost expected him to be demoted to Triple-A. After all, his ERA for the months on June, July and August combined was a bloated 7.71. However, Motte righted his ship in the final month, with nine consecutive scoreless September outings. He fanned 12 and walked just two in 8 1/3 impressive innings.

Though Kinney was a 2006 October hero, he has yet to pitch since his return from Memphis. Likely, he will be asked to regroup for another run at the major league roster in 2010.

Reserve infielders

You may have noticed that I did not list reserve outfielders as a category. That is because infielders Mark DeRosa and Skip Schumaker can serve as the fifth and six outfielders as needed.

The two, along with Brendan Ryan, Julio Lugo and Joe Thurston, means there are already five middle infielders among the locks. To me, that spells post-season roster redundancy and doom for the Greenes, Khalil and Tyler.

For my prediction to come to pass, rookie David Freese would have to step in front of the veteran Khalil. To make Freese eligible, one of four "leaning out" players would have be labeled as disabled for the LDS – Boggs, Wellemeyer, Thompson or Khalil. The combination of Freese's power, demonstrated by a Tuesday home run, coupled with Khalil's troubling personal and professional downslide leads me to make this call.

Oft-injured Troy Glaus, the 2002 World Series Most Valuable Player, may be the toughest decision at this point. The third baseman has five games to prove he is worthy of a spot and if he does anything with the bat at all this final week, I think he will be included. If not, Khalil may get a reprieve.

Another minor point. At times in past years, the Cardinals have brought along non-active players with the club in the post-season. Remaining in playing shape and routine, they serve as potential roster replacements for subsequent rounds. What I call "taxi squad" players would come from the "Leaning out" group.

One final reminder

While some fans can get really wound up over the last pitcher and last position player chosen, remember another point from the earlier article. On the average, the Cardinals have used just 22 players in their seven LDS appearances under La Russa.

In other words, three of the 25 may not even take the field – except for handshakes, hugs and high-fives at the end, they hope.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog.

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