After next start, it all could change for Waino

September 27th, 2018

ST. LOUIS -- A crossroads is coming for the Cardinals and , who must soon decide if their future plans align. It's a decision that Wainwright is longing to delay.

While the Cardinals enter Friday singularly focused on keeping their postseason hopes alive, there will be an unspoken storyline intertwined. Wainwright's start in the team's series opener at Wrigley Field (1:20 p.m. CT) could be his last in a Cards uniform.

With the team's postseason chances shrinking and Wainwright's return for 2019 uncertain, the veteran right-hander isn't assured another pitch as a Cardinal beyond those he throws on Friday. Retirement is a possibility, though one that Wainwright has mostly dismissed. Leaving St. Louis 13 years after making his Major League debut is another.

"Everyone asks me," Wainwright said of addressing what's ahead. "Fans do. Family does. Friends do. I have a lot of outside things I want to do when I'm done playing, whenever that is, and people involved in that want to know. I say, 'Relax. We have plenty of time. I'm a young lad, right?'"

The upcoming decision isn't an obvious one, as the Cardinals will have to consider Wainwright's recent injury history along with his place among a deep group of young starting pitchers. If Wainwright is committed to continuing his career, he'll have to seek out the right fit, too. He has said previously that his preference would be to stick with the organization that acquired him as a Minor Leaguer in 2003.

The more immediate focus, though, is what Wainwright can do to keep St. Louis in the hunt for a National League Wild Card spot. Friday's start will be his fourth since returning from an another right elbow injury that took four months to rehab. It was the fifth time in two seasons that Wainwright had been placed on the disabled list.

Initially unsure whether he'd be able to contribute as a starter again this season, Wainwright has pitched the Cardinals to wins in all three of his September starts. He's also registered two of the four six-inning starts the Cards have gotten in the past two weeks.

But this next start will be his most important. The Cardinals, after being swept by the Brewers, sit one game out of the second NL Wild Card spot, and Wainwright will be the one tasked with setting the tone for what has become the team's biggest series this year.

"There's two ways to go," Wainwright said. "You can quit and lay down and get ready for the offseason or you can show up with your hair on fire and ready to play a baseball game and you'll start with the first game. We'll start with Friday and we'll see what happens. But we're going to be ready to play, and I promise you I'll be ready to pitch."