PHOENIX -- The Cardinals have preached staying in the moment regardless of the situation surrounding them, whether it’s a four-game series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field or being only a few days away from a potential division title.
But with October inching closer and closer, and the magic number to become National League Central champions at three, it’s hard not to think about what next week could bring. The NL Wild Card Game is next Tuesday, and Game 1 of the NL Division Series will be on Thursday, Oct. 3. The Central winner will play the Braves in the NLDS.
The Cardinals won’t announce their roster or rotation until they know what their postseason looks like, as well who their opponent will be.
Keeping that in mind, and knowing that anything can happen over the next week, here are some candidates to start either the Wild Card Game or Game 1 of the NLDS.
Flaherty seems like the obvious choice to start the Cardinals off on the right foot in October, whether that be in a must-win game or Game 1. He has an MLB-best 0.97 ERA in 14 starts since the All-Star break, has emerged as the Cardinals’ ace and has looked dominant in just about every start he’s made.
Flaherty isn’t scheduled to start against the Cubs this weekend at Busch Stadium, so he would be on six days’ rest if he started the Wild Card Game and eight days if he started Game 1.
However, the Cardinals have a 2 1/2-game lead over the second-place Brewers as of Wednesday afternoon, which means the division is still up for grabs. There’s a chance that it could come down to this weekend. Flaherty would be on normal rest to start Sunday’s regular-season finale, and that would open other options to start the postseason.
Wainwright is scheduled to start on Sunday, but if Flaherty gets the call, Wainwright could be pegged to start Game 1 or the Wild Card Game. Wainwright’s most recent start, against the D-backs, wasn’t his best; he gave up five runs in five innings. But he was on one of his "Vintage Waino" runs to start September -- allowing one earned run in four starts (27 innings). The 38-year-old has stayed healthy all season, and that’s helped him deliver one of his best seasons since 2014.
Hudson has been the Cardinals’ most consistent starter this season, and his 16 wins lead all Major League rookie starters. His 3.45 ERA is second among rookies, behind the 2.60 recorded by the Braves’ Mike Soroka. And Hudson leads the Majors regardless of rookie status in ground-ball percentage, with 57 percent. The only thing he sometimes struggles with is efficiency, with 81 walks this season, tied for third in the Majors. Miles Mikolas doesn't struggle with command -- he has walked more than two batters just once this season. That makes him a strong consideration, too, to start, depending on how this weekend shakes out. Hudson and Mikolas are scheduled to start Friday and Saturday, respectively, against the Cubs.
Wong ‘close’ to return
Second baseman Kolten Wong is giving full attention to his strained left hamstring in St. Louis while the Cardinals play in Arizona. On Tuesday he lightly ran and hit in the cage, and on Wednesday he was scheduled to do more baseball activities, with the plan to hit on the field on Thursday.
Wong’s goal is to return by this weekend’s series against Chicago, and his progression this week has made that goal more realistic.
“We’ll know more after tomorrow, but he’s getting close,” manager Mike Shildt said.