No surprises. Both Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman missed time at the end of the season with injuries but both are in the lineup today.
Wong is back in the lineup, batting seventh. Tested his hamstring muscle and it's good to go. Otherwise the usual crew: Fowler, Edman, Goldschmidt, Ozuna, Molina, DeJong in the top six spots and Bader batting eighth.
Of course, the Cardinals also did not disrupt the team chemistry which allowed the team to win at a mind-boggling rate during the second half of the season. And it won a division title without subtracting any prospects, which positions the organization to continue to meets its mandate of contending every season.
Relax, he is on the bench today.
I'm not optimistic about Ozuna in this series. It's been a long time since he hit consistently well and you have to wonder if the hand injury has had a lingering effect on him. If he can suddenly snap to and pound the ball, that would certainly help him get more money here or elsewhere next season. Right now his stock has to be at a low point.
I wish I could be optimistic about Mikolas, too, but his improvement late in the season moved him from bad to average. You hate to go into Game 1 of the playoffs with just average. But with Flaherty going in Games 2 and 5 and Hudson lined up for Game 4, they have a fighting chance.
Game 1 is big, of course, but the road team could lose Game 1, win Game 2 and then have the home-field edge for a best-of-three series. As for Mikolas, Hudson IS a handy back-up who could tag in early. But extensive use of Hudson today would create a quandary for Game 4.
That ballpark opened with a reputation of being a launching pad. I'm not there today to ask the locals what they expect with the summer-like conditions today, but I'm guessing we'll see some long balls.
It could certainly play that way. I would not write off Tyler O'Neill, who also runs very well and can cover the ground in center field. Thomas showed some ability to handle a part-time role and take good at bats, so I expect him to make a push. Arozarena's speed makes him attractive as a bench guy and I don't know how much more he could gain the minors. We won't see Carlson at this young age unless he's starting -- and I would not rule out him starting.
But look at the numbers Edman has put up hitting second. And look how long Wong has been out with his injury. Edman has been torrid, so he gets the nod to get the extra at-bat he could get hitting second vs. seventh.
I might have said lineup depth, given the injury issues Acuna and Freeman have battled at the end. But with DeJong and Ozuna failing to hit consistently well, I have to toss that aside. Bullpen depth might have been an edge, too, but some relievers really fell off at the end. Gant is burned up and Shildt had to put Cabrera and Ponce de Leon in the pen.
Of course injuries are factored in. In this case, Wieters is well enough to pinch hit, which will be his role. He did have a disastrous game catching after returning to active duty, but he also drove in a couple of games in that role. And he might get a few swings in this series.
If Mikolas slips and the game is still close, Shildt could go to Hudson and worry about Game 4 later. If Mikolas blows up into a million pieces and Shildt just needs somebody to get the game over with, then that would be Ponce de Leon's job.
Well, it seems that he could be healthy enough to pitch if the Cardinals keep going. But his role, if any, would likely fall into the ServiceMaster Mop-up Role. (By the way, has Fox Sports Midwest or KMOX sold that slot yet. Surely some restoration company could sponsor a pitching change that occurs after a game takes a disastrous turn and mop up is needed.)
Munoz can play seven positions pretty well, which makes him really unique. And if Wieters pinch hits ahead of Munoz in a pecking order, that would thrust Munoz into the catching role as well. The odds of that happening about the same as one of the Cardinals getting struck by space debris today, but anything is possible and managers plan for all eventualities.
Wong's return in place of Carpenter adds more hope. But, yes, the margin for error increases if Ozuna and DeJong can hit the ball more consistently.
A compliment? Am I being set up here?
His movements have checked out, so his range should be fine. The issue will be how quickly he can get locked in at the plate again. He was in a great place when his hamstring grabbed.
Wainwright will pitch Game 3. If Hudson is deployed today, that puts Game 4 in question. Yes, pitchers throw between starts. Yes, Hudson's experience would help him handle this sort of usage. But there would be some risk in that, so Shildt would have to believe he had a real shot to win to play the Hudson card today.