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Mapping Out Michael Wacha’s Red October…

The Post-Dispatch is reporting that Michael Wacha will throw a bullpen session today to determine his readiness to potentially start either Saturday or Sunday’s game against the Reds. Let’s take a quick look at what Wacha’s road to the playoffs could look like assuming all goes well…

1. September 20th or 21st. If all goes well in today’s throwing session, Wacha could start would start either game this weekend. Which game he starts really doesn’t matter, because an off day on the Cardinals’ schedule (Thursday the 25th) means his next start would fall on the same day with normal (or normal + 1 day) rest. Considering his last start was targeting the 75 pitch mark, I wouldn’t expect him to go beyond that, and maybe even fall a little short just to be on the cautious side. It would also allow left-hander Marco Gonzales enough room left in the game to stay strong in case Wacha falters and Gonzales is needed in the rotation.

2. September 26th. Assuming Michael’s start against the Reds goes well enough to move forward, his next start would be on Friday the 26th against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He could face the D-backs on either his normal four days rest or with an extra day of rest depending on whether he starts Saturday or Sunday. If I’m the Cardinals, I start him on Sunday to get his body acclimated to the every-fifth-day routine before October. It also allows them the luxury of resting Wacha an extra day before his first start since being shut down. Look for him to up his pitch count from 55 to 70 pitches (his last start) to around the 75 to 90 pitch range. That’s just enough to make a regular, worry-free start in the playoffs.

3. October 1st. If the Cardinals get Wacha to this point in the season, and he’s still going strong – and assuming they make the NLDS – then this is where things get interesting. Matheny and Mozeliak could elect to simply give Wacha the day off to rest and recover before the division series begins, as they will with the rest of the rotation. But…considering Wacha doesn’t have the miles on his arm this season that the other pitchers do, and considering he could likely use the final tune-up appearance as well as the opportunity to build even more endurance, look for the Redbirds to throw Wacha in a simulated game against teammates. This would have the added benefit of giving the lineup “live” at-bats during a four-day layoff from game action. Look for Wacha to throw between 70 and 90 pitches to maintain endurance in this final tune-up assignment.

(Interesting Side Note: If the Cardinals falter and end up in the NL Wild Card game, that game would be played on October 1st…the perfect day for Wacha to make his next start with Marco Gonzales on-turn to back him up. And, because of the way playoff rosters can be changed from the WC game to the NLDS, the Redbirds could carry Gonzales as an extra pitcher for one day without any repercussions.)

4. October 6th. Game 3 of the NLDS is scheduled to take place on October 6th, right in-line with Wacha’s next start date on normal rest if he works a simulated game on the 1st. Assuming the Cardinals go with a Waino-Lynn combination in games 1 and 2, this works perfectly. Look for Wacha to have an unrestricted pitch count, evaluated instead by how much he labors in late innings.

5. October 12th and 18th. If the Cardinals are lucky enough to advance beyond the NLDS and make it to the NLCS, they’ll likely have to throw Adam Wainwright twice in the best-of-five series to do it. That means Lance Lynn would get game 1 of the NLCS. And that means Wacha is positioned to throw game 2 and game 6 both on an extra day’s rest. That’s an ideal situation for the Redbirds and Michael Wacha who could be just hitting his peak by this point in the postseason.

6. October 24th. The World Series. Fingers-crossed, knock on wood, etc. If the St. Louis Cardinals are lucky enough and resilient enough to make it to the World Series, Michael Wacha is lined up to throw Game 3 on normal rest. And that means…

7. October 29th. …Wacha is the Game 7 pitcher if the Cardinals make it, the Series goes seven games, and the Cardinals don’t want to adjust the postseason rotation to get Adam Wainwright in that Game 7 slot. Personally, I would rather assure that Wainwright could throw a second game earlier in the series, but that’s just me. Also, if Matheny elects to go with a more experienced pitcher like Lynn or John Lackey in Game 7, Wacha will be perfectly rested to come out of the pen if needed.

So…as you can see, there’s quite a lot riding on today’s throwing session…

— GO CARDS!!!

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