ST. LOUIS — When the Cardinals’ rotation went through an unsettled stretch last month, it was because most of the starters were struggling.
Well, the rotation again has become a fluid situation, but for very different reasons. No. 1, the starters seem to have moved past their rough spots. No. 2, there’s more at stake now and time is running out on the regular season. With four games left, the Cardinals still are playing for the NL Central title, home-field advantage in the Division Series and, though a long shot, home-field advantage until the World Series.
So far, Mike Matheny has decided that Lance Lynn will take his scheduled turn Friday against the Cubs after Thursday’s off day. Matheny also said that Joe Kelly is still set for Saturday’s start.
But the weekend is subject to change.
“We just have to see how it plays,” Matheny said. “Those are all legitimate questions and legitimate situations. Right now, we’re going to play today. I want the guys preparing to stay on time for their starts. I don’t want them thinking about what the possibility is if X, Y or Z happens. We have to play today, win today. Then tomorrow we’ll adjust. It’s not time to go anywhere else.”
The biggest X-factor is Adam Wainwright. He is scheduled to start Sunday, but if the division and home field are wrapped up by then, he could be held back until the Division Series opener next Thursday.
But if the Cardinals have not clinched the division by Sunday, Wainwright figures to get the call. He could even be called on Saturday if, say, the Cardinals lose their two-game lead and need a win Saturday to stay alive in the division race.
Another possible scenario — and perhaps the most intriguing — would have the Cardinals clinching the division before Sunday but not yet having secured home-field advantage in either round. Would you pitch Wainwright Sunday instead of near no-hitter man Michael Wacha to give you your best chance to gain home field? Going Sunday would take Wainwright out of Game 1 of the Division Series, but he still would be in a position to start Game 2 and a potential Game 5 on regular rest.
No wonder Matheny prefers to focus on the moment.
“I know the scenarios, but I’m not going there,” he said. “I’ve got a very vague picture of what it should look like but for the most part, I don’t want to go there. When I start going there, I start opening the door for those guys to go there. When they start going there, bad things are set to happen.”
The Cardinals, whose magic number to win the division is three, cannot clinch the Central before Friday since the Pirates and Reds also are off Thursday before starting their season-ending series in Cincinnati.
The postseason, of course, will present another host of possibilities. For example, if the Cardinals win the Central and Wainwright starts Game 1, does Shelby Miller start Game 2? If it’s at home, probably. He went into Wednesday’s start against the Nationals with a 1.77 ERA at Busch Stadium. But what if Game 2 is on the road? Miller’s road ERA is 4.57. Kelly, meanwhile, has a 2.07 ERA away from Busch, compared to 3.59 at home.
“We’ve got plenty of time to figure that stuff out,” Matheny said.
Whatever and whenever they decide, their options look a lot better than they did a month ago.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.