A one-game playoff for a berth into the postseason seems harmless to most, though more rides on it than meets the eye.
The general consensus: Do whatever you can to get in, the rest is a crapshoot.
A more gambling take: Do I start my ace, or use a lower-line starter to setup my rotation for the possible Division Series that follows?
For the Cardinals, the latter fits the bill.
A team that built as boom or bust this year — which still could bust — the Cardinals have been sitting in the same seat at the Blackjack table all season.
Lace Berkman was the little taste of success — or beginners luck if you will — for the Cardinals, with his 31 homers, 94 RBIs and .301 batting average in 2011.
Feeling confident in the abilities of Berkman, whose knees had seen multiple surgeries, the Cardinals signed the aging first basemen to a one-year, $12-million extension, which is where the addiction was sparked. …and parted ways with Albert Pujols, one of the only sure-things in baseball, and the $300 million he desired.
General Manager John Mozeliak wasn’t done there, though. The GM inked yet another aging veteran outfielder in Carlos Beltran, who had played 145 games between in 2009 and 2010 combined because of injuries. Though, Beltran was an All-Star in 2011. But signing a 35-year-old corner outfielder, with a history of leg injuries, a multi-year deal was playing with fire.
Berkman battled injuries throughout the 2012 season, appearing in just 31 games and notching only 80 at-bats (.263, 2, 7), and was shut down multiple times. The switch-hitter even discussed retirement after the injury early in the season.
Clearly, the deck had gone cold. Especially after ace Chris Carpenter was shut down for, what we thought at the time would be, the season.
However, the deck heated up thanks to Beltran nearly mirroring Berkman’s 2011 campaign (.269, 32, 97).
Now the Cardinals’ magic number from clinching a spot in the Wild Card play-in game for the NLDS is two with three games to play.
Let’s get hypothetical for a moment. Should the Cardinals win two of their next three games from the Cincinnati Reds, or any combination of a Cardinal win and Los Angeles Dodgers loss, would lock it up.
Thus, raising the question: Who starts the play-in game?
Play it safe, or gamble?
See above for what the ’12 Cardinals track record is.
The likely candidates, co-aces Adam Wainwright and Carpenter, are proven in clutch situations — especially Carpenter. But he’s coming back from an injury and has logged 11 innings in two starts, and Wainwright is off a 2011 season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
But those two could use some rest.
So between Kyle Lohse, Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia, the remaining three starters in the rotation, take your pick.
Or, employ the gambler’s mentality and say “hit me.”
Lohse, a candidate for the 2012 Cy Young, has pitched like an ace this year and deserves the nod in a big game…despite his lackluster start against Washington on Saturday.
Lynn (18-7), who was an All-Star in 2012, and has pitched like a seven on a ten scale throughout the season. No doubt, he should be the first hit should Lohse struggle early.
Garcia, throwing well down the stretch, earned a three for the ’12 campaign (though he battled injuries). Then he would be the second hit.
So, Manager Mike Matheny has been dealt an excellent hand — an Ace, a 7 and a 3 — Blackjack.
Follow the trend set by the front office, Matheny. Take a gamble. Piece together the Wild Card play-in game start, save your studs for the potential NLDS and take your best shot at winning a second consecutive World Series.
After all, the deck seems to be getting hot at the right time.