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What difference does it make if Wainwright or Martinez start for the St. Louis Cardinals on opening day?

I’m curious about the hub bub that’s gone on surrounding the decision about who would get the opening day start for the St. Louis Cardinals, Adam Wainwright or Carlos Martinez.

The question has turned into some sort of referendum on the intelligence of manager Mike Matheny and the worthiness of the Redbirds best starter of the past several years opposed to that of the team’s emerging new ace.

All I can ask is what difference does it really make?

Isn’t the first day of the season a little bit too early to pretend that one game is a must-win situation? Both Wainwright and Martinez, knock on wood, are hopefully going to make 32 more starts after their first one. And opening day isn’t exactly the first game of a short playoff series.

I’m sure both players would like the supposed honor of pitching on opening day. But I’d really like to believe that both Wainwright and Martinez are more interested in the overall welfare of their team and their teammates than in concerning themselves with an “honor” that will be completely meaningless a week after it happens.

As far as the skipper is concerned, I don’t think it’s going to make or break Matheny’s season based on which pitcher he chooses to start the first game.

In my book, both players are worthy of the opening say start. They’re the two Cardinals pitchers with the highest ceiling. Wainwright is the highest-paid hurler on the team and Martinez is a superstar coming of age. We could go on and on with reasons why they each deserve the ball for the first game.

St. Louis’ opening series opponents, the Chicago Cubs, also have two pitchers who stand above the rest, Jake Arietta and Jon Lester. It’s not like the Cardinals will get a free pass against one of them. So, I don’t think it gives the Birds an advantage or disadvantage to match Martinez against the former as opposed to the latter.

Like I said, I really don’t care which order they pitch in. I’d just like to see both guys pitch well and stay healthy.

Martinez returned to the team this week from the World Baseball Classic and promptly got back into the swing of spring training with five dominant innings. Wainwright was coming off a disturbingly bad turn his last time out when he pitched Thursday against the Washington Nationals. He was decent, allowing one earned run (three total runs thanks to his own error, dropping a ball while covering first base on a grounder to the right side) over four innings. Wainwright, who couldn’t throw strikes his previous start, walked one and struck out one during his time on the hill.

I don’t agree with everything Matheny does. But I don’t get the intense scrutiny he’s faced the last year or so. The 2016 season was the first time the skipper failed to guide the Cardinals to the post season since he became the manager in 2012. He may not have pushed every right button. But the players’ failure to make contact at the plate, catch the ball in the field and execute in the clutch played a large role St. Louis missing the playoffs for the first time in recent memory.

People seem to get fired up about every little decision Matheny makes. They don’t like it when he switches pitchers. They don’t like it when he doesn’t switch pitchers. They don’t like the defensive alignments he uses, the platoons, or when he rests players – or doesn’t rest them.

I wonder if it occurs to people that all of these choices may not be his.

The Cardinals have shifted dramatically in recent years to rely more on statistical analysis over the manager’s gut feelings. Matheny gets an awful lot of feedback about where to play his fielders, who should bat against specific starting pitchers and other minutiae.

It’s odd that the front office, which most fans seem to believe can do no wrong, is in many ways pulling the strings. But Matheny takes 100 percent of the blame. After all, it’s the current front office regime that decided one of the most historic and successful teams in major league history should replace a Hall of Fame manager who was second on the all-time wins list with a man who had never managed at any level of professional baseball.

Hopefully, the Cardinals will win both of their first two games and we can put this whole controversy behind us and try to enjoy the upcoming season.

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