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Health to determine Cardinals playoff roster

There’s been a lot of speculation about the names that will make the St. Louis Cardinals post-season roster.

I believe that, ultimately, the largest factor in the decision making process is going to be health.

Can Yadier Molina play? Is Matt Adams going to be able to stay healthy enough to play entire games on back-to-back days? Is Adam Wainwright healthy enough to play a significant role in the bullpen?

Molina’s health is the biggest question -- not only about who will be the starting catcher but also about how the bench will be composed. If Molina can’t go, that leaves Ed Easley as the backup catcher. He’s a guy who has never had a hit at the major league level. He’d basically be an emergency only player who would offer no impact as a pinch hitter.

If Easley is on the roster, it makes it very tough to have Pete Kozma on the bench.

Although he was a lightning rod for fans because of his poor hitting in 2015, the Redbirds could afford to keep Kozma on the regular season roster because he offered defensive insurance at seven defensive positions. He’s also the only reserve middle infielder the Cardinals have with a decent glove.

Greg Garcia showed his limitations in the field when exposed during the Cardinals’ closing regular season series against Atlanta (if the fact that he’d lost the shortstop job in the minors and was morphing into a utility player wasn’t enough evidence.) He’s a mediocre second baseman, a sub par shortstop and a questionable third baseman. If Jhonny Peralta got hurt or if the Cardinals had to do a double switch involving the shortstop, they’re in big trouble in the field with Garcia. Those reasons are the entire explanation of why the Birds kept Kozma all year. Garcia couldn’t cut it as the backup shortstop.

But if Easley is on the bench, it’s hard not to have Greg Garcia there as the reserve infielder because he is a much better hitter than Kozma. In the playoffs, the Cardinals can’t afford to have TWO guys who can’t hit a lick on the bench.

Garcia is also likely to be on the bench if Matt Adams or Brandon Moss are left off the roster because the Cardinals will need at least two left-handed bench bats.

I suspect Adams is healthy enough to make the roster and a late season surge by Brandon Moss will likely make him the second lefty bat. So I would be more comfortable with Kozma’s glove than a third lefty bat in Garcia. As long as Molina is available to hit at least.

Let’s not forget, while Kozma had an awful season at the plate, he’s got experience in the playoffs and collected some big hits in previous post seasons. But I’d feel better with some more productive bats surrounding him.

Wainwright, by all accounts, seems to be ready for a bullpen role in the playoffs. His breaking pitches looked remarkably sharp in his appearances the last week. That’s amazing for a guy who hadn’t pitched in game action since late April.

I believe the Cardinals can afford to have Wainwright be a righty specialist out of the pen if they keep Tyler Lyons as the second lefty. Lyons is capable of pitching two or three innings -- to both lefty and righty hitters -- while Randy Choate can only pitch effective to lefties and one or two of them at a time.

Over the last month, Choate has allowed opponents to bat .429 against him with a .444 on-base percentage. Is this a guy who can be counted on to pitch to a tough lefty in a close playoff game?

Over the season as a whole, Choate hasn’t been exactly dominant against lefties. They hit .265 against him in 2015 as a whole with a .333 on base percentage. He’s especially terrible on the road where opposing hitters batted .302 against him.

Over the past month, opposing hitters are batting .189 against Lyons. He’s held lefties to a .232 average in 2015. And while righties bat .333 against Choate, they hit .258 against Lyons.

The Cardinals are going to have an interesting issue with Grichuk’s still vulnerable arm. If they fear he can’t make the throws from deep in the centerfield gaps, they can play Heyward in center and not miss a beat defensively. Grichuk can play right and depend on Wong’s strong arm for assistance by throwing to the cutoff man.

Adams, if healthy, can split first base with Stephen Piscotty. Piscotty could move to right in late and close games to provide a better arm.

So... Assuming Molina is healthy, here is my playoff roster:

Starting eight:

C Molina (R), 1B Adams (L)or Piscotty (R), 2B Wong (L), 3B Carpenter (L), SS Peralta (R), LF Holliday (R) CF Heyward (L), RF Grichuk (R)

Bench:

Piscotty (R) or Adams (L), Moss (L), Kozma (R), Cruz (R), Pham (R), Reynolds (R)

Rotation:

Lackey (R), Garcia (L), Wacha (R), Lynn (R)

Bullpen:

Closer: Rosenthal

Setup: Siegrist

7th inning: Wainwright

RHP middle relief: Maness, Cisheck, Broxton

LHP middle relief: Lyons.

Notable omissions:

Peter Bourjos has been terrible since May and ended the season with a sub-.200 batting average. There is nothing he could offer that Pham couldn’t do.

Jon Jay is a player who’s had a big impact in previous post seasons. But he hasn’t got on base this year as he did in years past. I don’t believe his wrist is healthy.

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