The St. Louis Cardinals made news Thursday by not making news, as manager Mike Shildt announced that the team would carry the same 12 pitchers and 13 position players on its roster for the National League Championship Series as it did for the National League Division Series.
Miles Mikolas was announced as the starter for Friday’s first game, with Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, and Dakota Hudson scheduled to follow in turn.
“I love the conviction of how Miles has competed,” Shildt said, “where pitch to pitch he’s just throttled down, looking to execute that next pitch, staying in the moment. I’ve really enjoyed his competition and how he’s been able to execute his pitches.”
Mikolas came to St. Louis with some incentive. Castoff by the big leagues following the 2014 season, he joined the Cardinals before the 2018 season as a free agent from Japan. Other teams had showed interest, but Mikolas said he was hoping a deal with the Cardinals would work out. Friday’s assignment is the reason why.
“Thinking about who you want to play for, you want to play teams that are wanting to win, that are contenders, that are trying to get to the playoffs, and that is the St. Louis Cardinals,” said Mikolas. “To be on their list of guys who started Game 1 is humbling, it’s an honor, and it’s going to be a whole lot of fun.”
Righthander Michael Wacha, who left his start in Arizona on September 25 with a right shoulder strain, was thought to be a possibility for the roster, but ultimately the Cardinals opted to keep Génesis Cabrera, a third lefthander, and Daniel Ponce de Leon, the righty who seems doomed to pitch only in the scenarios that no one dares imagine.
“Michael is healthy enough to likely have been able to participate at some time in the series but we didn’t want to compromise him or us,” Shildt said. “But his health is, he’s in a really good spot, thankfully, moving forward for him, and we’ll evaluate as we go.”
Washington manager Dave Martinez took advantage of the compressed schedule in the Division Series to use his “big three” starters – Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer, and Steven Strasburg – as relief options to mitigate the impact of a substandard bullpen. Anibal Sanchez is set to start game one for the Nationals, and Shildt feels the Cardinals are prepared for whoever might come through the gate.
“We’re prepared for most any and all things that can come at us,” Shildt said. “One of the advantages we’ll have with that is we’re familiar with their starters. Played them recently. Their guys that are established in the league, we’ve got some guys that are also established that are familiar with them. We’ll just be prepared for whoever comes out of that bullpen to have a good game plan, and we’ll be able to execute and compete.”
By setting the rotation in the order they have, the Cardinals have also aligned Mikolas, Wainwright, and Flaherty to pitch in games five, six, and seven, should each of those games be necessary. Flaherty, the staff ace, is coming off a start in the fifth game of the Division Series. By pitching third, he maintains his full rest schedule and can be used in a do-or-die game seven.
The choice between Mikolas and Wainwright was multifaceted.
The rotation selected would provide Wainwright with the opportunity to pitch twice at home; he posted a disastrous 6.22 ERA in 76 2/3 innings on the road and a sparkling 2.56 mark in 95 innings at home. He threw 7 2/3 innings of shutout baseball in the third game of the division series, and he has some negative history at Nationals Park. The six earned runs allowed there in 2 1/3 innings in the decisive fifth game of the 2012 Division Series might have foretold a catastrophe if not for the heroics of Pete Kozma and the inevitable letdown of what was once called “Natitude.”
Shildt conceded that Wainwright’s splits played into the decision while explaining, “we also kept the same order in which we just got through participating in the previous series. That was effectively how we thought about it. We talked about this and continued to look at our decision process and realized that we’ve got a lot of really good options.
“We feel confident about Miles in Game 1, clearly, and Waino in Game 2, and we’ll move forward from there.”
Before the division series, the Cardinals hadn’t played the Atlanta Braves in approximately four months; the last regular season series between the teams concluded on May 26. The Nationals were at Busch Stadium as recently as September 18, and that familiarity can yield dividends when considering preparation.
“It’s nice to have them fresh in your mind,” Mikolas said. “And when you go back and looking at video, not going to have to dig too deep to find my last start, which is nice.”
“It’s a little more freshness to it,” Shildt conceded. “We were still aware of Atlanta obviously, but you go four and a half months without playing somebody, you want to make sure you’re revisiting what’s going on and what they’re doing and how they’re currently playing, anything adjusted.”
“There’s a little more familiar having just played these guys, but we’ll still do our homework and make sure all the ‘I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed.”