On Friday, the Cardinals will begin a (potentially) three-game series at Busch Stadium against the Philadelphia Phillies. For such a brief series with such dramatic stakes–the potential end of the 2022 season and the potential anticlimactic conclusion of two legendary Cardinals careers–those of Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina–selecting the optimal roster is going to be critical.
Below is a run-down of who I believe should be on the Cardinals’ postseason roster, not necessarily who will. Because I believe in living in a world of idealism until the crushing blow of reality sinks in.
The starting lineup
Catcher: Yadier Molina
First Base: Paul Goldschmidt
Second Base: Brendan Donovan
Third Base: Nolan Arenado
Shortstop: Tommy Edman
Left Field: Juan Yepez
Center Field: Dylan Carlson
Right Field: Lars Nootbaar
Designated Hitter: Albert Pujols
This lineup shouldn’t be too surprising nor controversial after it was reported that Tyler O’Neill should miss the Wild Card Round (for those unaware, rosters can be changed from series to series without punishment, and surely O’Neill being healthy would impact the roster’s construction). Improbably, the worst hitter in this lineup in September was Nolan Arenado, though the Gold Glove fielder and 2022 MVP candidate is clearly assured of a starting role, as is Paul Goldschmidt, who still managed to be an above-average hitter in September, albeit not the superhuman he was for most of the season. Even Yadier Molina, an offensive black hole for much of 2022, has dramatically picked up his offensive pace.
Juan Yepez, who spent much of the second half of 2022 in the minors, has hit well since being brought back up to the Majors while Corey Dickerson, who had a resurgent third-fourth of the season, faltered. While Yepez isn’t much of a fielder in the outfield, I would compare his defense more to that of, say, 2011 Lance Berkman than 2017 Matt Adams (the latter’s awful left field defense being the inciting event that brought Yepez into the Cardinals organization in the first place)–he will be a candidate for late in the game defensive substitutions, but he is clearly one of the nine best hitters on the team right now.
Also: Albert Pujols, man. If you had asked me about his role on a playoff roster in 2022 in late March, I would’ve guessed he probably wouldn’t even make the roster, and now he is an indispensable part of the team’s postseason plans. Even his much-noted lefty-righty splits have narrowed enough (mostly by doing better against the latter rather than lagging against the former) that Pujols is a must-start against lefties or righties.
Paul DeJong, Ben DeLuzio, Corey Dickerson, Nolan Gorman, Andrew Knizner
The real headliner here is probably less the quality of the bench options selected and more about the quantity–five bench position players means going into the postseason with twelve pitchers rather than the new standard total of thirteen. But in contrast to subsequent rounds in the postseason, there is only a need for three starting pitchers and therefore a twelve-man pitching staff means nine relievers over the course of three days. Do you need a tenth reliever? I mean, sure, you’ll certainly take one, but a fifth reserve position player has its advantages, too.
Anyway, let’s talk about the actual players being selected. Knizner is the only obvious choice here–you need a backup catcher, and while Knizner has struggled of late, he remains the far safer option than Iván Herrera, who struggled in 22 MLB plate appearances earlier this season. I doubt that even the most strident of Knizner detractors would argue too vociferously on this one.
Corey Dickerson’s extremely up-and-down 2022 has made him divisive, and while I have seen many sources refer to him as a lock to make the postseason roster, I am a bit less effusive based on his poor recent offensive performance along with his awful base running and defense. That said, even with as unsightly as his offense has been of late, he has still been at worst a comparable hitter to the unproven Alec Burleson. I wouldn’t mind going with Burleson, who certainly has more offensive upside, but sticking with Dickerson is the path of least resistance, one I am inclined to follow when constructing a bench. As for DeLuzio, while I do not particularly buy his bat (and given how few plate appearances he has, I don’t think that’s unreasonable), he appears to be a competent defensive outfielder. Given Juan Yepez’s shortcomings, the option in late game situations to go with a Nootbaar-DeLuzio-Carlson outfield is a nice one.
Given how much he struggled prior to his late-season demotion, it’s easy to forget not only that Nolan Gorman was much hyped prior to his MLB arrival as the obvious designated hitter that the Cardinals lacked (y’all remember when Albert Pujols was bad?), but that Gorman has been a plus-hitter throughout the season. When it goes poorly, it goes poorly, but short of promoting Jordan Walker, Gorman is the bench option with the most pop on the team.
Paul DeJong is a tricky one, as he has, for the most part, looked completely lost at the plate in 2022. But he is still the safest defensive option at a critical position, and not unlike my prior arguments for DeLuzio, DeJong could provide solid late-inning defensive versatility, particularly if it allows Tommy Edman to move to second base, the position at which he is the defending Gold Glove winner.
The purpose of this bench, above all else, is risk mitigation–this allows the Cardinals to be comfortably two-deep (at least) at every position. Knizner as the backup catcher, Pujols as the backup first baseman, Edman or Gorman as the backup second baseman, Donovan (with Edman or Gorman moving to second) as the backup third baseman, DeJong as the backup shortstop, Dickerson as the backup left fielder, DeLuzio as a general, all-purpose backup outfielder. In a pre-DH world, this bench may be a little uninspiring, but it’s not as though there should be a pressing need, barring injuries, for pinch-hitters.
Jordan Montgomery, Miles Mikolas, José Quintana
Listed in order of how I would start them. Keep in mind that I am of the somewhat unorthodox belief that teams should save their best starter for Game 3 because then they might be able to use him twice in the NLDS. Based on both recent returns and his broadly impressive body of work throughout the 2022 season, Quintana and his sub-3 ERA and FIP is my #1 guy. He probably isn’t long for the Cardinals (though let’s put a pin in that topic for the early off-season!) but the key is to use your best players and he’s been really good.
Jordan Montgomery has struggled a little bit as of late, though he was quite awesome in his first several starts as a Cardinal. But against a lefty-heavy lineup such as that of the Philadelphia Phillies, a pitcher like Montgomery has quite a bit of appeal. The prospect of a lefty to battle against Kyle Schwarber, Nicolas Castellanos, and particularly Bryce Harper is a tantalizing one. As for Miles Mikolas, he’s been a solid pitcher and has pitched well as of late–not really too much more to it. I don’t feel passionately enough to quibble about the order, but those are my three guys.
The St. Louis Bullpen (TM)
Jack Flaherty, Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, Steven Matz, Andre Pallante, Chris Stratton, Zack Thompson, Adam Wainwright, Jake Woodford
Ryan Helsley is a given–I fully expect that, despite the lyrics of the song, I will ascend into Heaven if Helsley enters a game to AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” with a chance to win a playoff series. Giovanny Gallegos, his struggles on Monday night aside, is also a given–he has in many ways been superior to Helsley in the second half of the season. Andre Pallante, who has been a serviceable starter at times for the Cardinals, doesn’t quite have the aura that he had earlier in 2022, but he is still, with his 3.17 ERA and sub-4 FIP, more than qualified to have a role of some sort. And Chris Stratton, an afterthought in the Quintana trade, has been a revelation with the Cardinals, with a 3.05 ERA and sub-3 FIP since joining the team.
Twist my arm, but Steven Matz has looked downright solid as a reliever. His sub-2 ERA as a reliever is, to be clear, a bit of Small Sample Size theater, but based strictly on the eye test, he looks clearly capable of a roster spot. Fellow starter-by-trade Zack Thompson has had some BABIP luck, as well as some luck pertaining to runners left on base, but a 2.12 ERA is still a 2.12 ERA. There’s a case to be made that the Cardinals could use a third lefty, and said lefty would likely be JoJo Romero, but I’m willing to ignore platoon advantages if the guy in question has both an ERA and FIP in the 5.6 range.
Based on strong recent results as a starter, Jack Flaherty has been mentioned as a potential postseason starter. And I’m certainly willing to entertain the notion come NLDS time. But Flaherty is a little bit riskier than the three starters I chose, and given his swing-and-miss stuff, he is certainly a more intriguing option as a reliever. To be clear, I don’t want the Cardinals to hold on to Flaherty only in case of emergency in hopes to preserve him for the next round. Use his dynamic arsenal to get to the next round, and then worry about how you arrange your starters later.
Adam Wainwright has downright struggled down the stretch, to the point where I simply cannot justify him getting a start. That said, for most of 2022, Adam Wainwright was the best starter on the Cardinals. I’d be inclined to give him a courtesy invitation to the roster even if it weren’t for the fact that he’s Adam Wainwright, but beyond the sentiment of it all, I haven’t given up that Adam Wainwright can regain his form. I’ve been extremely wrong and given up on him before, and I’m not making that mistake again.
While I never subscribed to the cult of Jake Woodford, those who have spent much of the last couple seasons insisting that Jake Woodford should be a starter on the Cardinals, the results are quite good–no, he can’t strike guys out to save his life, but his low walk rate makes him a perfectly usable pitcher. If you want to replace him with Jordan Hicks, coming off injury, I’m fine with that. If you want to go with Dakota Hudson…look, let’s not get carried away. But somebody has to be the far back in the bullpen guy–I’m good with it being Woodford.
One thought on “Who should be on the Cardinals’ Wild Card Round roster?”
I’m done with DeJong and Flaherty has the heart of a mouse. He has depended on his God-given ability his entire life and when the ability is matched by the hitter’s ability, Jack’s done. I can trade Flaherty and DeJong to the Yankees for Harrison Bader- tomorrow!!