Shelby Miller: the Cardinals' 12th man

Jim Rogash

What we modern sorts call "the regular season," the old-timers called "the championship season" ... because if you finished in first place, you won a championship. You were the champions of your league. Which was exceptionally important to people. At some point it stopped being so important. I can recall players in the 1970s, or maybe it was even the '80s, saying that what really mattered was winning the league championship. But I suspect the term "championship" season went out of style in approximately 1969, when finishing in first place didn't win you the league's flag.

This year in the championship season, Shelby Miller pitched almost exactly 12 percent of the innings totaled by the National League Central championship-winning St. Louis Cardinals.

This year in the postseason championship tournament, Shelby Miller has pitched almost exactly 0.9 percent of the innings totaled by the St. Louis Cardinals.

That's quite the comedown for a pitcher who won 15 games and finished with the 10th-best ERA in the whole league.

Yes, I wrote about Miller just last week. It seemed the Cardinals had some pretty good reasons for dropping Miller from their postseason rotation. Six reasons, that we know about:

1. Miller faded down the stretch.
2. Miller is young, and presumably fragile.
3. Adam Wainwright,
4. Michael Wacha,
5. Lance Lynn, and
6. Joe Kelly.

Looking at the big picture, it's strange for Miller to get dropped from the October rotation. Looking at all the small pictures, it's perfectly defensible. Strange, considering Miller's body of work during the championship season. But defensible.

What's less defensible is carrying a pitcher on your postseason roster who you're not going to use.

Mike Matheny's pitching staff has been the same in all three postseason series: those four aforementioned starting pitchers, and eight relief pitchers. Six of those relief pitchers have thrown at least three innings. Edward Mujica has thrown two innings. And Shelby Miller, theoretically the most versatile of the bunch, has thrown one inning.


Granted, there was a decent chance this subject wouldn't come up again. Adam Wainwright might have pitched well in Game 1, or at least decently. He and his teammates might have looked perfectly competent for five or even six innings, leaving the rest of the innings for all those trained relief pitchers in the bullpen.

Wainwright didn't look so competent, and neither did his teammates. Thanks to some fat pitches and some ugly fielding, Wainwright gave up five runs in the first two innings. Before that second inning was over, David Ortiz missed a grand slam by about two inches; instead he got a sacrifice fly, the Red Sox got a 5-0 lead ... and their chance to win the game topped 90 percent. Wainwright retired the next Soxer to end the carnage.

He needed 60 pitches to get six outs. That didn't mean he couldn't do well in subsequent innings, and in fact he didn't give up any more runs in three subsequent innings. What it meant was that the Cardinals had an exceptionally small chance of winning Game 1, so Mike Matheny should have been thinking about subsequent games. It meant that Matheny should have been thinking about starting Wainwright (his ace, after all) in Game 4, or even just giving him a bit of extra rest before his scheduled Game 5 start.

Instead, Matheny managed the game exactly as if he were managing in June or July. Wainwright threw 95 pitches and gave his club five innings. With a six-man bullpen and a tough game coming up, maybe that made sense. Maybe it even made sense with a seven-man bullpen.

An eight-man bullpen, though? I can't figure that one. Except it seems like Matheny doesn't actually have an eight-man bullpen. It seems like the eighth man isn't actually going to pitch unless somebody gets seriously hammered early in the game or there's a game with a 14th-inning stretch.

It seems like either Matheny made a big mistake in Game 1, or Shelby Miller shouldn't actually be on the roster.

One thing I do know: The Cardinals usually have a good reason for doing whatever they do. This time, I just can't figure out what that might be.

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