Shelby Miller’s outstanding performance on the mound in Cincinnati was significant for more than one reason, but the most compelling reason is the competition it generates for a spot in the postseason rotation. As of right now, the likely four-man rotation would look as follows: Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey, and Michael Wacha. The odd man out, of course, is Miller, last year’s 15-game winner who notoriously disappeared when the 2013 postseason started.
Shelby started 2014 under a seemingly self-determined promise from Cardinals’ management that a good season would result in a much different postseason role — as in, he would actually have a role. That role is getting foggier and foggier with every start.
Over his two most recent starts — both in September — Miller has thrown 14 innings (seven innings each), allowed a total of six hits (again, split it down the middle, three each), compiled a total of three walks and nine strikeouts…and allowed a whopping ZERO runs. That’s huge, especially considering the opponents he faced.
A Pittsburgh Pirates team that represents the most likely challenger to the Cardinals’ dominance in the Central and had previously all-but-owned Miller…and a Reds team playing in Cincinnati at Great American Ballpark, a glorified batting cage for major-league hitters.
And Shelby Shut. Them. Down.
Compare that to the most recent starts by Miller’s competitors for a rotation spot in October…
Adam Wainwright (2 GS): 15 IP, 5 ER, 14 Hits, 2 BB, 6 Ks
John Lackey (2 GS): 12.1 IP, 8 ER, 18 Hits, 2 BB, 12 Ks
Lance Lynn (2 GS): 12 IP, 4 ER, 13 Hits, 7 BB, 9 Ks
Michael Wacha (1 GS): 3 IP, 1 ER, 3 Hits, 1 BB, 3 Ks
Shelby Miller (2 GS): 14 IP, 0 ER, 6 Hits, 3 BB, 9 Ks
More innings pitched than any starter in the rotation save for Wainwright (and remember, Shelby likely could’ve gone at least one more inning with just 80+ pitches thrown last night). Fewest earned runs allowed. Tied for second most strikeouts with Lynn. Fewest hits per IP and tied for fewest hits per start with Wacha who only threw three innings in one start.
And now consider every single starter ahead of Miller has question marks, either from health, fatigue, or just performance.
Adam Wainwright hasn’t looked like Wainwright in the second half until his last start, and more than one member of the Cardinals’ staff seems concerned about fatigue for the ace. John Lackey has been very “not good” his last two appearances on the mound with some expressing concern over his fastball velocity. Lance Lynn has managed to avoid his annual swoon in August, but after a less than stellar show of control in his last two starts, did he sidestep it completely or only delay it a month? And Wacha’s stress reaction has put him in a position that may best be described as a coin flip…he may recover as expected and start October strong, or he may just as likely regress when his arm attempts to ramp things up to five or six innings per start.
In fact, if Miller can continue pitching so effectively, he could end up being the closest thing the Cardinals have to a worry-free starter in October. Doesn’t that support the argument that he should be in the rotation?
Maybe. Or maybe the Cardinals see it the other way around.
With so many of the four starters carrying at least yellow flags into the postseason, do Mozeliak and Matheny place a higher value on taking a reliable back-up arm into the playoffs that can seamlessly step into a muffed start and potentially salvage a game? Let’s not forget, Joe Kelly is not coming out of that bullpen for the Cardinals in October.
Perhaps Shelby’s most valuable spot on the October roster is the one vacated by his best friend in July…emergency reliever for emergency starts.
Except this time, Matheny is in an excellent position to heavily lean on Miller out of the postseason pen. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him make two or three appearances per series for two or three — maybe four — innings each.
The question now is, would it surprise Shelby Miller?
Let’s get to the rest of it…
Right field now has the potential to be a strength for the Cardinals. After carrying perhaps the most offensively unproductive RF platoon of players for much of the season, the Redbirds now may be in a position to enjoy the most productive RF platoon in October. Randall Grichuk has the ability to punish LHP while Oscar Taveras is suddenly showing signs of putting it all together with comfortable — and dangerous — swings at the plate. Combine that with the performance of a Bourjos-Jay CF/RF combination, and things are looking bright for the Cardinals’ outfield in October.
Sam Freeman is giving Mike Matheny options in the pen for October. The value of any lefty reliever in October is obvious, but Freeman’s splits against right-handed hitters (.200 avg against, 1.25 WHIP, 0 HRs, and 1 ER) makes him a valuable commodity when facing two key playoff scenarios: The dreaded LH-RH-LH hitter combination in later innings, and the ability to sub Freeman into the game against a LH hitter when the opposition is likely to counter with a RH pinch-hitter. If he can continue to locate his pitches and keep his walk totals down, he could end up a significant figure in the Cardinals’ postseason success.
Matt Adams appears to benefit from rest. Mike Matheny, take note…Adams has shown how much he benefits from being given time off more than once this season. Recognize it and give him a day off here and there. After all, that’s what Scruggs is for, right? Allen Craig from 2013 is no longer on your bench. If you run Adams into the ground, Xavier Scruggs is NOT a viable option for multiple October starts at first base. But he is here now, and is capable of providing regular rest for Big City and his potentially tender oblique muscle (not to mention his nagging elbow). Rest now means production in October.