The St. Louis Cardinals have been fortunate to get some big breaks in the 2014 post season that aren't often afforded to teams that start playoffs on the weaker side of the bracket. And they need to take advantage of them.
First, the Cardinals were able to gain home field advantage in the National League Championship Series when the wild card San Francisco Giants knocked off the best team in the regular season, the Washington Nationals.
Then, not only were the Redbirds able to take down the highly favored Los Angeles Dodgers, they did so in four games -- and without having to use ace Adam Wainwright twice -- giving them a chance to reset the starting rotation and make sure all the pitchers have plenty of rest.
That's an important factor during the post season because pitchers can quickly become worn down in extra games after a long season. But it's also important because Wainwright has been fighting elbow tendonitis that likely factored into his lousy start in Game 1 of the NLDS in Los Angeles.
Wainwright, because the Birds were able to win their division outright, avoided extra tiebreaker games and having to play in the wildcard contest. Then they shaved a game off the NLDS schedule, potentially eliminating three games that they would have had to play.
The result is that Wainwright was scratched from his start on the last day of the season. And he's only had to pitch one time in the past two weeks. If that's not going to help his elbow, nothing is.
The Cardinals, if they're concerned about Wainwright's condition, need to seriously consider making John Lackey the Game 1 starter for the NLCS. That's not only important for getting off to a good start. But it could give them more options down the line if they need to have him available to pitch two games. By flip flopping Wainwright and Lackey, the former Red Sox pitcher with an extensive post season resume can carry most of the weight along with Lance Lynn, allowing Shelby Miller and the ace to pitch only once each.
We're past the point of egos and favors. The Cardinals need to take a hard look at what they think gives them the best chance to win. I hope Wainwright can be his dominant self. But if he can't let's not risk his health -- or a shot at another World Series.