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Cardinals notebook: As Adam Wainwright seeks answers, peek offered at playoff rotation

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Cardinals, Padres at Petco Park

Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux visits the mound with pitcher Adam Wainwright, catcher Yadier Molina and the team's infielders in the fifth inning against the Padres on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, at Petco Park in San Diego.

MILWAUKEE — The Cardinals and veteran starter Adam Wainwright have identified elements of his delivery he can address in the coming days and then test Sunday in his final start of the regular season before the team decides on its postseason rotation.

His availability and effectiveness are only part of the conversation.

They’ll mold their choice around the opponent in a potential wild-card series.

“Who we play does matter,” manager Oliver Marmol said Tuesday.

The Cardinals’ first real peek into how they will piece together their postseason assignments came during this two-game series in Milwaukee with a chance to clinch the National League Central championship. The Cardinals had Miles Mikolas lined up to face the Brewers in the pivotal series and moved Jose Quintana up a game to pitch Wednesday’s series finale. Marmol said the team decided this was the best option to clinch now. That moved Jack Flaherty back to the weekend series against Pittsburgh, giving him at most two more starts this season, depending on the standings. Wainwright will start the home finale of the regular season Sunday — it’s a ceremonial assignment but with substance.

The right-hander had his shortest outing of the season this past Sunday at Dodger Stadium when he allowed four runs on six hits in three innings. In September, opponents are hitting .365 against him with 38 hits and 48 base runners in 24 innings. Despite all that traffic, he’s minimized the damage and won two games, but he’s not felt the same snap, the same crispness in his pitches that allow for effective starts or postseason appearances. His velocity on his cutter, sinker and fastball all sagged in LA.

“There are a couple of things that we’ve identified that he wants to work on that will get him in a better position to get some of the velo back,” Marmol said. “Just mechanically speaking. So he’ll do that over the next several days and then take another shot at it. Everyone is fairly optimistic.”

Wainwright will do that work in a bullpen session and also with some flat-ground work and drills that are akin to shadowboxing. He’ll have built in extra rest, too.

If the Cardinals draw the Brewers in the first-round series, they’ll consider two lefties against the lefty-susceptible Milwaukee lineup. The Phillies, one of the top six teams against lefties in the majors, or San Diego would prompt other considerations. The team’s performance against similar pitchers would inform the Cardinals’ decision, Marmol said.

Far more than, say, recent small sample sizes.

Two candidates to start for the Cardinals in the postseason, lefty Jordan Montgomery and Flaherty, fit in that category. Montgomery allowed six runs on seven hits in four innings in his most recent appearance, and he’s lost three consecutive, failing to complete six innings in any of them. He allowed three homers to LA. Flaherty had his most impressive stretch in more than a year at the end of his start in San Diego — and he did what the Cardinals crave, especially in the postseason: miss bats. Flaherty struck out nine.

“Swing and miss, which I love,” Marmol said. When asked whether recent trends put a thumb on the scale or longer-range performance, Marmol continued: “I think it’s on both sides. When he didn’t get swings and misses, it’s like, ‘Is this the Jack of the future? This is what he’s got?’ And then he gets swings and misses and it’s like, ‘Is he your Game 1 starter?’ So I tend not to react one way or the other. We’ll see what his next outing looks like and we’ll compare it to what we know Jack does when he’s good, and then we’ll see who we’re matched up against. We’ll plug and play then.

“You’re evaluating physically what they’re bringing,” Marmol continued. “But also their ability to handle the moment when it gets real. All of that comes into play.”

Which of course bends back toward the veteran, Wainwright.

The right-hander started the Cardinals’ single playoff game in 2021, throwing 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball at Dodger Stadium. His next playoff appearance will be his 30th, and if it’s a start, it will be Wainwright’s 17th in the playoffs. Wainwright has not won a playoff game since his complete-game clincher against Pittsburgh in the 2013 NL Division Series. He’ll have one more start to shake the September funk and give the Cardinals the chance to decide on a body of work bigger than that start or the five before. There is no formula for such a choice.

“I’m not going to bet against this guy,” Marmol said. “Ever.”

Edman’s Gold rush is on

With his first inning of work at shortstop Tuesday night, Tommy Edman moved officially, for the time, into eligibility at that position for the Gold Glove Award. Edman, the defending winner at second base, will be eligible at whichever position he logs more innings this season, and that became shortstop after the first inning Tuesday, 603 innings to 602⅔ innings.

It is more likely, however, that Edman, one of the game’s leaders in defensive runs saved, will be the inaugural winner of Rawlings’ new Gold Glove for a utility fielder.

Edman’s plus-19 DRS ranks third in the National League, behind Colorado second baseman Brendan Rodgers (plus-23) and Pittsburgh third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes (plus-20), according to Sports Info Solutions. Of the three, he’s the only one to split his time between at least two positions. Edman is a plus-13 at second base — only Rodgers is better in the majors — and a plus-6 at shortstop. That’s tied with Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson.

The Cardinals became the first team to win Gold Gloves at five different positions in 2021 and were rewarded with Rawlings’ first team Gold Glove honor. The Cardinals rank second in the National League with a plus-62 DRS, behind only the Dodgers’ plus-78. The bulk of the Cardinals’ DRS come at Edman’s positions and third baseman, where as a team they are a plus-25 and Nolan Arenado is a plus-18. The Cardinals not likely to repeat with five winners — center fielder Harrison Bader was traded and left field Tyler O’Neill has dealt with injuries — but are the favorites for two, Edman and Arenado, and Paul Goldschmidt has a claim to repeat at first.

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