The St. Louis Cardinals’ recent pitching inconsistencies have left it up in the air who will start Game 1 of the playoffs.
When Jordan Montgomery began his St. Louis Cardinals career like gangbusters, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that when the playoffs came around, he would be the starting pitcher for the first game, provided the Cardinals make it there. But as is common in baseball, the winds changed on a dime. Montgomery struggled in his last three starts, making the pitcher for Game 1 a giant question mark.
Montgomery was touted as the biggest heist of the trade deadline early in his Cardinals tenure, but in his past 14.1 innings, he surrendered 13 earned runs. He’s not the only the only pitcher to have issues of late. Adam Wainwright is battling a “dead arm” and has a 6.38 ERA in September. Miles Mikolas has been up and down this month, pairing two excellent starts with two mediocre ones, and his excellent production in the first half that earned him an All-Star nod hasn’t been seen as often.
Jack Flaherty showed some promise at the end of his last start, hitting 96 mph, but he is the one pitcher I would leave out of the Game 1 starter conversation. He simply hasn’t pitched enough this year to be trusted. Jose Quintana, meanwhile, has been on an upswing. He has a minuscule 0.71 ERA in 25.1 innings in September and is easily the Cardinals’ hottest pitcher. If that performance holds up, the Cardinals could feel compelled to roll with him.
However, the Cardinals’ opponent in the first round hasn’t been decided yet. If the Cardinals play the Philadelphia Phillies, they might want to avoid Quintana in the all-important first game since the Phillies are third in the major leagues in OPS against left-handers. The other possible opponent, the San Diego Padres, is less threatening against southpaws, ranking 16th.
I can see an argument to be made for and against each possible starter for Game 1, and manager Oliver Marmol will have a difficult decision to make when it comes to whom he should trot out there. Should he go with the top pitcher for most of the season in Mikolas? Should he trust the historically clutch Wainwright? Should he decide Montgomery’s recent struggles are a blip on the radar and use him? Or should he send out the recent hot hand in Quintana?
The bullpen of each team will have a huge role in the playoffs, so it’s unlikely the starter, whoever it may be, will go especially deep into the game, but five strong innings are likely going to be critical for the Cardinals to compete in the first round of the playoffs.