Cardinals sorting out their postseason roster
Four-man rotation, 13 position players slated for NL Divisional Series
ST. LOUIS -- The morning after celebrating the team's first National League Central title since 2009, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny sat down to begin sifting through the looming decisions regarding the club's postseason roster.
St. Louis does not have to set its 25-man NL Division Series roster until Thursday, the day the best-of-five series opens at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals will go with a four-man rotation, though it has not yet been determined which of the starters will be left out of that mix. Whoever it is, though, will have a spot in the bullpen.
Mozeliak projected that the Cardinals will carry 12 pitchers and 13 position players, though he acknowledged the possibility of going with an extra bench player over an eighth reliever. Carrying eight relievers would allow Matheny to be more aggressive in how he employs his relievers. That was a trademark of how Tony La Russa managed in the 2011 postseason, which culminated in a World Series championship.
"Last year was just such a great luxury to have a guy for the seventh, a guy for the eighth, a guy for the ninth," Matheny said. "It doesn't matter, left, right, switch, that was our formula. And we don't necessarily have that right now. We have a lot of guys we have faith in and we just want to put them in the best situations. It's a different situation where we could be using more guys so we need to have some guys with some flexibility."
Mozeliak said the club will "probably" carry two lefty relievers; those would be Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist. He noted, too, that Edward Mujica, despite his recent struggles, should have a place in the postseason bullpen.
"I still think he has some value to us," Mozeliak said. "Clearly his ability to pitch to left- and right-handers gives you some flexibility. How he's used time will tell, but I would imagine at this point he would be likely on our roster."
How the Cardinals line up their rotation will be partially determined by their opponent. Adam Wainwright is scheduled to pitch Game 1 on Thursday. Beyond that, however, the Cardinals have not shown their hand.
The composition of the bench is also still up for discussion. The Cardinals have not yet decided on whether they will carry three catchers.
Beltran among Cardinals to rest on Saturday
ST. LOUIS -- Though the Cardinals have not taken their eyes off the possibility of securing home-field advantage throughout the National League Championship Series, they also plan to let their everyday players dictate some lineup decisions over the final regular-season weekend.
Both Carlos Beltran and David Freese were out of the lineup on Saturday, a day after the Cardinals clinched the NL Central title. Beltran has been dealing with a sore right wrist for some time, and the issue prompted his early removal from Friday night's game. General manager John Mozeliak said that had Beltran been needed to play, he would have been on the field.
As for Freese, the Cardinals wanted to give him a day of rest after starts in 21 straight games.
"I think we're all on the same page," manager Mike Matheny said. "We just want to get ready to play [in Game 1 of the NL Division Series] on Thursday. Each guy is going to have his own program and what that looks like."
Matheny would not reveal what lineup plans he had for Sunday's series final against the Cubs.
One residual benefit of resting starting position players is that it allows some of the bench players to take at-bats this weekend. Pete Kozma, Daniel Descalso and Adron Chambers were all in Saturday's lineup. It was Chambers' first start of the season.
"The first priority is getting our everyday guys ready with what they need for these next two days in order to have them prepared for Thursday," Matheny said. "Once we find out what that is, then we're going to start plugging in the other guys that one, we want to see, or two, we want to get ready."
The Cardinals entered the final weekend of the regular season assured of starting the NLDS at home, but they're still battling the Braves for home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. St. Louis and Atlanta entered Saturday with identical 95-65 records, but the Cardinals would have to finish with more wins (since the Braves own the head-to-head tiebreaker) to draw the winner of the Pirates-Reds Wild Card Game in the NLDS. The other team would face the Dodgers.
Westbrook will start series finale with Cubs
ST. LOUIS -- With the National League Central race concluded, the Cardinals have tweaked their Sunday pitching plans. Joe Kelly, who was scheduled to start, will still pitch, but he will follow starter Jake Westbrook, who will be making his first appearance since Sept. 6.
The outing will get Westbrook some much-needed work. The greater intention, though, is that it can allow for a last bit of recognition.
Though the Cardinals have not talked about how Westbrook fits into their postseason or future plans, it seems as if the right-hander's St. Louis career is coming to a close. He doesn't appear to have a fit on the club's postseason roster, and the Cardinals are not expected to exercise the $9.5 million mutual option Westbrook has for 2014.
Westbrook said the Cardinals have not yet talked to him about his postseason fate.
"I can kind of guess, but that's just from the fact that I haven't pitched much recently," Westbrook said. "It's definitely disappointing not to be a part of. I'm just going to get ready for tomorrow and go from there."
That means Sunday will most likely end Westbrook's 3 1/2-year tenure in a St. Louis uniform.
"He's done a lot for a lot of people around here," manager Mike Matheny said. "If Jake Westbrook wouldn't have been one of our veteran leaders, not just what he was doing on the mound as a real good starter, [but] a guy like [Adam Wainwright], he didn't carry all the burden of taking in these young pitchers as a leader of the staff without another veteran stepping and mirroring that kind of work ethic, that kind of competitive nature. We're real proud with how Jake has been able to help our club in many different ways and decided to get him out there to start."
Westbrook's 2013 season certainly did not close the way he had hoped. He had a 1.62 ERA after his first six starts, but then landed on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation. He could not match that strong start upon his return.
A back injury plagued Westbrook in August, and once he came back healthy, he no longer had a role on the team. Westbrook has been available out of the bullpen for the last three weeks but has not been used.
Acquired from the Indians in a 2010 non-waiver Trade Deadline deal, Westbrook is 36-32 with a 4.28 ERA in 93 games (91 starts) with the Cardinals. The club will owe him a $1 million buyout if it does not exercise his option. He will then be a free agent this winter.
"I'm excited to get this opportunity, and I'm looking forward to it," Westbrook said. "Hopefully, I can pitch the way I'm capable of pitching and give us a chance to win. ... I savor it every time I'm on the mound. I enjoy going out there and competing at the highest level. That's what I'm looking forward to."
Matheny emphasized that the decision to pitch Kelly in relief on Sunday is not an indication of what Kelly's role will be in the postseason. Kelly will likely come into Sunday's game after just a few innings because Westbrook is not stretched out to pitch deep into games.
• Because the Cardinals will not open the National League Divisional Series until Thursday, the club will have a three-day hiatus between the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason. The Cardinals will take Monday off and will then hold 2 p.m. CT workouts on Tuesday and Wednesday.
• The Cardinals will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Stan Musial's final regular-season game during a pregame ceremony on Sunday. The organization has honored Musial, who died in January, throughout the season. In the final game of Musial's career, he recorded the last of his 1,815 hits at home. Musial also collected 1,815 hits on the road.
• For the first time this season, left fielder Matt Holliday pushed his season batting average to .300 with his homer off Edwin Jackson in the first inning of Saturday's 6-2 win over the Cubs. After a third-inning walk, manager Mike Matheny pulled Holliday for a pinch-hitter so that the outfielder's average could not dip below that threshold. Matheny said he will consider holding Holliday out of Sunday's game so that he finishes with the .300 average.
"He's worked real hard to get there," Matheny said. "I know he's ready to go take at-bats and go do whatever he needs to do. That probably means more to us than it does to him, but he also understands that we're acknowledging what he's been able to do."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.