ARLINGTON, TX: Chris Carpenter #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals watches the play in the sixth inning during Game Five of the MLB World Series against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Game 7 of the 2011 World Series has been pushed back to Friday, which could allow the Cardinals to start Chris Carpenter on three days rest. Is that the move they should make?
Wednesday night's Game 6 of the World Series was postponed due to projected rainfall. The Cardinals and Rangers decided they didn't want to play such an important game under threat of delay, so where before Game 6 and Game 7 were scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, now they're set for Thursday and, if necessary, Friday.
This is being considered a minor win for St. Louis. Why? Because Chris Carpenter started Monday night's Game 5, and the postponement gives the Cardinals the option of starting Carpenter again in a potential Game 7 on three days rest. Carpenter is the staff ace, and he's allowed just four runs in 13 World Series innings.
The Cardinals, of course, have yet to announce a starter. It could be Carpenter. It will be Kyle Lohse's turn. Edwin Jackson will be fully rested. Jake Westbrook will be fully rested. Tony La Russa says that they've come up with a plan in-house, but something tells me he won't reveal what it is until Game 7 becomes a reality.
But just because La Russa hasn't told us what they will do doesn't mean we can't talk about what they should do. Let's say the Cardinals beat the Rangers Thursday night. Let's say they beat them in a conventional game, rather than a game that goes like 18 or 20 innings. Who should they have take the mound in the biggest and last game of the season?
Option 1 is Carpenter. Carpenter recently expressed a willingness to start Game 7 on short rest in the event of a postponement. He's the Cardinals' best starter, and he's been effective in two games in this series. However, he's started just one game on short rest in his life - October 2, against the Phillies - and he was bad. Which shouldn't have come as a surprise, because historically, even great pitchers have, on average, been pretty mediocre when starting on short rest. Based on the numbers, short rest doesn't always make good pitchers worse, but it usually does, so Carpenter would be a risky play. Even given the lessons he learned from his first short rest experience, and even given all the Game 7 adrenaline, the math is scary.
Option 2 is Lohse. Here's the thing about Lohse - he's not nearly as bad as he sounds in your head. His ERA this season was good. His fielding-independent numbers this season were good. He didn't rack up the strikeouts, but he got enough, and he limited his walks, and he was better than average overall. It's not like starting Kyle Lohse would be akin to starting Skip Schumaker. But at the same time, you know who's been really bad in the playoffs? Kyle Lohse. Kyle Lohse is not a guy you want to start in Game 7 of the World Series if you can help it.
Option 3 is Jackson. As with Lohse, Jackson is better than he reads. His ERA was also pretty good. His fielding-independent numbers were also good. He walked more guys than Lohse, but he whiffed more, too, and sometimes he can fake it as a groundballer. Jackson's perfectly acceptable as a rotation's #3 or #4 starter. But like Lohse, Jackson's struggled this month, and he's hardly a reliable play in the most important game of the season. Jackson just walked seven(!) Rangers the first time he started against them this series. Should the Cardinals really want to give him another chance?
Option 4 is Westbrook. Westbrook has thrown one inning all month. In that inning, he allowed a hit and a walk. He started 33 games during the year and wasn't bad, but while his specialty is generating ground balls, he doesn't really miss bats, and he doesn't throw a ton of strikes. With Westbrook, you'd be assuming baserunners and hoping for double plays.
Option 5 is the way I think the Cardinals should and would go. Option 5 is all of these, and none of these. Said general manager John Mozeliak:
I really think if we got to a Game 7, [who starts] wouldn't matter because you have all hands on deck, throwing everything out there including the kitchen sink, if it meant winning.
In Option 5, somebody starts, because somebody has to start, but the starter isn't a true "starter" because he lasts only a short time. Be it Carpenter, Lohse, Jackson or Westbrook, Tony La Russa would be looking for two or three or maybe four innings before handing the ball to someone else. Game 7 is not the time to lean on a starter too long when you have a roster full of fresh or mostly-fresh pitchers who are itching to get their turn.
In Option 5, it isn't about pitching Carpenter, Lohse, Jackson or Westbrook - it's about possibly pitching Carpenter, Lohse, Jackson and Westbrook, and a bunch of other guys, too. La Russa loves to play the matchups, and in the event of a Friday Game 7, he'll have the option of playing a ton of matchups and removing whoever's on the mound at the first sign of trouble.
Should the Cardinals force a Game 7, someone will have to start. I'm not convinced it matters much who that is.