ST. LOUIS — Like Mike Matheny, the Cubs’ Dale Sveum is nearing the end of his second season as a big league manager. But having the same amount time on the job is about it for similarities in their situations.
Sveum will spend this weekend’s season-ending series at Busch Stadium wondering if he will be fired at a meeting already scheduled for Monday with club president Theo Epstein. Sveum’s prospects of keeping his job do not appear to be great with the 66-93 Cubs having clinched a last-place finish in the NL Central after losing 101 games in his first year.
When Matheny thinks about next week, he will not be thinking about job security. Assured of going to the postseason for the second time in his two years, Matheny can rest easy that he will be managing the Cardinals in 2014.
Come Monday, Matheny still will be working. And with the postseason comes a new round of decision-making that could determine the fate of the Cardinals’ postseason chances.
Here’s a look at four pressing questions facing Matheny and the Cardinals:
Will Edward Mujica be left off the 25-man postseason roster?
It’s very possible, as well as downright surprising, when you consider how Mujica rescued the St. Louis bullpen when they needed a closer. To say he saved the Cardinals’ season is not much of an overstatement. If Mujica had not emerged as one of the NL’s top closers for five months, who knows what would have become of the bullpen.
A sorry September (9.45 ERA, .500 batting average allowed), however, has cost him the closer’s job and left him with a diminished (and unknown) role. If the Cardinals carry 12 pitchers, Mujica figures to be the 12th. But if they go with only 11, as teams often do in a five-game series, he could lose his spot to rookie Carlos Martinez. Those who have watched Martinez lately likely would change “could lose his spot” to “should lose his spot.”
Ten pitchers seem like locks: Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness, John Axford and Randy Choate.
That leaves Martinez or Mujica for the 11th spot, unless the Cardinals were to surprise and go with Jake Westbrook, Tyler Lyons, Fernando Salas or Sam Freeman. No matter what the team decides, more than one pitcher will be disappointed.
Who starts Game 2?
With their next win, the Cardinals will clinch home-field advantage for the Division Series as well as the NL Central crown. With home-field advantage, Miller makes an easy call to start Game 2 after Wainwright goes in the opener. But if the Cardinals open the playoffs on the road, the question becomes more difficult.
At home, Miller has gone 10-3 with a 1.75 ERA in 16 starts. On the road, he’s 5-6 with a 4.57 ERA in 15 starts. Those are differences too great to ignore, especially when you consider that Kelly has pitched better on the road. Outside of Busch, he is 5-1 with a 2.07 ERA. At home, 4-4, 3.59.
Who starts Games 3 and 4?
With two off days, a team needs only four starters in the Division Series. Assuming Wainwright and Miller means that Lynn, Kelly or Wacha will be left out.
A difficult decision, for sure. Kelly was the team’s best starter in August but has scuffled a bit in September. Lynn has returned to his early-season form. Wacha has wowed with a near no-hitter in his most recent start. This could be another occasion when Kelly’s ability to work out of the bullpen could cost him a shot at starting.
Does Allen Craig make the roster?
The Cardinals are expected to provide an update on Craig’s injured left foot before Friday night’s game. He was scheduled to be checked out Thursday following an unexpected trip home to California earlier in the week.
Even if he has been cleared to resume baseball activities, Craig would be a long shot to be ready for the start of the postseason. Nearly a month will have passed since he last played Sept. 4.
Still, considering the lack of right-handed hitters on the Cardinals’ bench, they will think hard about putting Craig on the roster just in case he’s ready to pinch-hit by Game 4 or 5. Their decision could come down to this: Would Craig at less than 100 percent give them a better chance than Brock Peterson, who has two hits in 25 at-bats in his brief time up?
Matheny and the Cardinals face other roster decisions, too. Kolten Wong or Adron Chambers? Do you include Rob Johnson or go with two catchers? The way Yadier Molina’s knee has held up, Wong and Chambers could be added at Johnson’s expense.
Difficult decisions, for sure. But you can be sure Matheny would rather be dealing with these than having to worry about his job.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.