Navigating Game-163 against the Dodgers


Well, it’s T-minus 3 games to go and the Cardinals are turning to Wainwright, Mikolas, and Flaherty to try and save their season. The plan was to try and use Jack Flaherty in the Wild Card game if that was possible but there’s just no way now to avoid having him pitch Sunday night against the Cubs, unless the team has nothing to play for. But with the Cards having 3 against the Cubs and the Dodgers in San Francisco for 3 to end the season and with the Dodgers up a game on the Cardinals, it’s obvious that as long as the Cardinals still have a chance they’ll turn to Flaherty Sunday. This obviously means that he will be unavailable for the Wild Card game Tuesday.

With the Cardinals a game behind the Dodgers it is increasingly likely that, for the Cards to even have a chance to play in that Wild Card game they’re going to have win a game-163 against the Dodgers on Monday. Hopefully the Cards can gain that game on the Dodgers in the last 3 to bring them to a tie and if so, the Cards will get to host the Dodgers but with Flaherty going Sunday and Mikolas going Saturday, not only will the Cards be unable to turn to either of them, but now they’re going to have to come up with 2 more starters just to get to the NLDS.

Unfortunately, neither of the 2 most obvious candidates inspired much confidence with their performances against the Brewers earlier this week. Austin Gomber was awful, getting pounded for 5 runs on 7 hits and 2 homers in less than 4 innings Tuesday, and John Gant merely survived through 4.1 innings Wednesday.

Who would the other candidates be? Daniel Ponce de Leon? He hasn’t even been trusted with a start since September 12, the last time he took the mound for the Cardinals. What about Carlos Martinez? Now, there’s an idea but of course for the Cards to play well this weekend he’s going to be needed to pitch probably more than 1 inning more than once. And he hasn’t pitched more than 2 innings since July 30. Adam Wainwright pitches today. Does him pitching on 2 days’ rest Monday or 3 days’ rest Tuesday sound like a good idea to you? Me, neither.

Probably the best idea is to go with back-to-back bullpen games of some sort where the team throws Gant and Gomber in some order to start the 2 games but having the pen available and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Complicating this process is the fact that right now we don’t know who the team might face in the Wild Card game – right now it’s looking like it’ll be either the Brewers or the Cubs – and that the Dodgers run platoons at about half of their positions so they’re not obviously vulnerable against either lefties or righties.

In fact, if you look at the Dodgers’ lineup they’ve been practically superhuman against right-handed pitchers and simply mortal (tied for 3rd in the NL) against lefties. On the other hand, we’re probably only talking about having a starting pitcher face the lineup 1 time through the order or so. Still, it’s probably best not to send Gant out there against them – besides being a righty, the Dodgers did just blow him up a couple of weeks ago – so probably Gomber should be the guy to start Monday’s game.

The lineup the Dodgers will send out there tonight to face the Giants will give us a good idea of what they would plan to do against Gomber since they’re facing Madison Bumgarner today. We would probably be looking at something like this:

  1. Taylor – CF
  2. Turner – 3B
  3. Machado – SS
  4. Bellinger – 1B
  5. Kemp – LF
  6. Puig – RF
  7. Grandal – C
  8. Hernandez – 2B
  9. Hill – P

They might go with Bellinger in CF, Kemp in RF, and Taylor in LF and put Freese at 1B instead of Puig or they might go with Dozier (who hasn’t hit anything in a month) at 2B instead of Hernandez but this is a pretty good approximation of what to expect. The bad thing is that their dugout is loaded with depth and they can bring on good pinch hitters any time they want. Knowing  that the Cards likely won’t stick with Gomber long and that most of the team’s relievers are righties, I’d guess they’d go with this lineup and save Freese in case they need him later.

The Cards will be the home team having won the season series against the Dodgers 4-3 so Gomber’s spot won’t be due to come up until probably the bottom of the 3rd unless the 1st 2 innings go really well. Regardless of when the pitcher’s spot comes up, however, the Cards should not plan to have a pitcher bat in this game. There’s just no point. It’s all-or-nothing and we can’t count on Gomber going deep into the game anyway. I believe that this game would be played like a game-163 so both teams will have their full complement of men from the 40-man roster. Thus, there is no reason for a pitcher to ever bat.

In this scenario, Gomber should be allowed to pitch to the 1st 9 hitters. Taylor, Turner, and Machado all annihilate lefties so it does no good to try to get Gomber through those 3 the 2nd time through just to face Bellinger again. He pitches to 9 batters. Maybe, maybe if there are 2 out and 1 man on in the 3rd I might let him pitch to Taylor just so that we don’t have to use 2 pitchers to get through 3 innings but there’s no way he should face Turner in the 3rd. Period.

With any luck, the 9-spot in the order will come up for the Cards in the bottom of the 2nd and the team can pinch hit for Gomber but that’s probably no better than a 50-50 proposition (and probably lower than that). The team probably wants Gomber pitching to Grandal since he’s much better this year and for his career against righties so if he happens to get through the 1st 2 innings perfectly, he could start the 3rd. You could probably hope to get Gomber through 3 if the 8-spot is leading off the 3rd also but, again, he shouldn’t pitch to Turner. So the Cards should be prepared to have a reliever pitch at least to Turner in the 3rd and then to pinch hit for that reliever in the bottom of the 3rd. That is a very likely scenario.

I would suggest Dominic Leone for the 3rd inning. He’s a good righty who could be sort of sacrificed so the team could get through the 4th – 9th with Brebbia, Hicks, Norris, and Martinez. This may be the key spot in the game since Gomber is likely to be the weakest pitcher that the team uses. (Another idea would be to start the game with Leone, Hudson, or Mayers and to have them pitch 2 innings but I doubt the Cards would be bold enough to try that.) It is absolutely critical that the team get to the top of the 4th having just given up a run or so and then the team can try to get through the rest of the game with its best relievers.

So it’s Gomber and Leone for the 1st 3 innings, pinch hitting for whichever pitcher is in the game in the bottom of the 3rd. (With Hill on the mound, assuming he’s still there, I would suggest Patrick Wisdom.) Top of the 4th and the team is facing probably Machado or Bellinger to lead off. They’ve probably batted 11 or 12 hitters through 3 innings. So the guy the Cards will use here will pitch to the last 6 or 7 batters in the order in order to get through the 4th and 5th innings. I would use John Brebbia for the 4th and 5th and then probably the team can pinch hit for the Brebbia in the 5th. If it looks like the Cards’ pitcher’s spot is going to come up again in the 4th – a nice problem to have – then use Norris in the 4th so that the team can use Brebbia for 2 innings. If the Cards end up going with Brebbia in the 4th and then bat 6 or 7 guys in the bottom of the inning and they can only use Brebbia for 1, so be it. If we’re pinch hitting in the 4th, that’s a good sign.

We’re probably in the top of the 6th now in a close game with something near the top of the Dodgers’ order coming to the plate. It’s Jordan Hicks’ time. He’s there to pitch the 6th and 7th and face the top and middle of the Dodgers’ order. Then the team needs to pinch hit for Hicks. If it looks like the team can’t get through Hicks through 2 innings without pinch-hitting then they need to double-switch — maybe Tyler O’Neill for Jose Martinez or Matt Adams for Jedd Gyorko.

Once the team gets to the top of the 8th, it’s time to turn to Carlos Martinez to get the team through 9. Hopefully now we’ve gotten through 9 innings and if extras are needed the team can turn to Norris. All hands will be on deck anyway and the team may have to turn to Hudson, Mayers, or even Wainwright in relief.

So the plan for that Dodgers game should be:

Gomber for 10 hitters max.

Leone to get the team through 3. (It would be great to get Gomber through 3, but the team shouldn’t push him in order to do it.)

Brebbia for the 4th and 5th

Hicks – 6 and 7

Martinez – 8 and 9

Norris is 1st up in extras.

Everyone else.

Maybe it won’t come to that. Maybe we can leapfrog the Dodgers in these last 3 games but that would be shocking. The most-likely best-case scenario is to be playing the Dodgers Monday for a chance to face the Cubs or Brewers Tuesday.

Stats and info come courtesy of fangraphs.

Thanks to you all for reading.



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