What to Make of the Cardinals' NLDS Rotation

Game one of the NLDS between the Cardinals and Phillies is still a day away, but St. Louis manager Tony La Russa is already making some noise in the series. La Russa announced Friday that the starting pitching rotation would be Kyle Lohse on Saturday, Chris Carpenter on Sunday (on short rest), and Jaime Garcia on Tuesday. It was previously believed that Edwin Jackson would get the ball in game two, but today’s surprise announcement indicates otherwise. What should we make of this decision? Check out my thoughts after the jump.

So my initial reaction was this: Oh no is TLR outsmarting himself once again? I will say that I wasn’t as surprised by the news as some people seemed to be, mainly because I’ve come to expect the unexpected when it comes to La Russa’s managerial decision making.

Here’s what La Russa had to say of his decision:

That’s not something that you do lightly, but there’s a couple of facts that you consider. As we’ve gotten into the season, he’s gotten stronger and stronger. He actually feels better now than he did the first half of the year. He had the kind of game against Houston that was not a stressful game. I don’t mean because of the score; I mean because his delivery was in sync. He would have thrown another 50 pitches and not been tired.

After giving it some thought, I have no problem whatsoever with Carpenter taking the mound for game two. However, that’s not to say there’s no risk involved here. The argument that Carp has never pitched on three day’s rest in his entire career is certainly a valid one, and the 36-year-old is facing an entirely new challenge in what will be his 339th MLB start. Chris has been an absolute workhorse for this team all season long, racking up an NL-leading 237.1 innings and throwing 109 pitches in Wednesday’s complete game victory in Houston.

It is only logical that fatigue starts to set in at some point late in the season, but the truly elite pitchers are able to cope with that fatigue and not let it affect them in crucial situations. There is also the theory that the Cardinals won’t have Carpenter to rely on at home in game three in case they lose the first two, but let’s be honest. If you’re planning or preparing for a situation in which you lose the first two games of the series, you don’t have the correct postseason mentality.

Here’s why I like the idea of Carpenter starting game two. Obviously, Chris is the team’s ace, meaning if at all possible, he should be starting one of the first two games. Secondly, 7 of Carp’s 11 wins this season have come on the road. Although his ERA is slightly higher on the road than at home, he has walked less and struck out more away from Busch Stadium. Lefty Jaime Garcia is significantly better a home than on the road (2.06 difference in ERA), and Carpenter is an experienced veteran that is better suited to handle the burden both mentally and physically of playing in a hostile environment. He has a 5-2 postseason record and a 2.93 ERA with St. Louis, and the Cardinals are 7-2 in the playoffs in games that Carpenter is on the mound. Finally, using Carpenter in game two would allow La Russa to use him again on Friday should the series go five games. I don’t think there’s anyone who would dispute that Carp is the guy you want on the hill in that situation.

Let’s not forget about Kyle Lohse. The fact that he will be featured in game one after missing the better part of the 2009 and 2010 seasons is really a testament to how far he’s come this year. It’s really an excellent success story. Kyle has overcome a number of past injuries to quietly put together an outstanding season, and he probably deserves much more attention than he’s getting. The 32-year-old went through his fair share of ups and downs this season, but he has come on strong late in the season and earned the trust of his teammates and manager. He faces an enormous challenge in game one against the reigning Cy-Young winner, but I think he’s fully capable of holding his own.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that, on paper, no one can match up to the Phillies’ starting pitching rotation. However, that doesn’t guarantee that the Phils automatically have the upper hand going into every game. Both teams have solid bullpens to rely on if any of the starters don’t pitch as expected, so this series could very well be decided in other facets of the game.

Here are the pitching match-ups for the first three games of the NLDS:

Game 1 in Philadelphia: Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.39 ERA) vs. Roy Halladay (19-6, 2.35 ERA)

Game 2 in Philadelphia: Chris Carpenter (11-9, 3.45 ERA) vs. Cliff Lee (17-8, 2.40 ERA)

Game 3 in St. Louis: Jaime Garcia (13-7, 3.56 ERA) vs. Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.79 ERA)

*Starters for games four and five (if necessary) are to be determined. Edwin Jackson and Jake Westbrook, who will be available in the bullpen for the first three games, could be used in one of these spots. Otherwise, look for two of the top three starters to pitch twice in this series as part of an abbreviated three-man rotation.

Tags: Chris Carpenter Cliff Lee Cole Hamels Edwin Jackson Jaime Garcia Jake Westbrook Kyle Lohse NLDS Roy Halladay St Louis Cardinals Tony La Russa

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