The Cardinals have their rotation set for their National League Wild Card Series against the Padres: Kwang Hyun Kim will start Game 1 on Wednesday, and Adam Wainwright will take his postseason experience to the mound for Game 2 on Thursday in the best-of-three series. If Game 3 is needed, Jack Flaherty will start it, the team announced Monday.
Kim has been the Cardinals’ best starter in his first year on the club, and that’s even after he began the season as the closer -- he notched one save, on Opening Day -- before the coronavirus outbreak moved him back to the rotation. A spot in the rotation is why Kim signed with the Cards after 12 successful years in the Korea Baseball Organization, and it’s a spot he has excelled in this year. He has a 1.62 ERA over eight games (seven starts) and 39 innings, as well as a 1.026 WHIP and 5.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
The lefty has a low-90s fastball against which opponents have hit just .182 this year, thanks to the stellar defense behind Cardinals pitchers. Kim mixes in a deceptive slider, a slow and looping curveball and a changeup that he doesn’t use as often. When Kim does throw his changeup, it generates plenty of swings and misses.
The Padres are likely to match up their lineup based on the Cardinals’ starter on a given day, but except for on-base percentage, Kim has pretty even splits this year against right-handed (.198/.250/.328) and left-handed (.192/.300/.308) batters.
In 27 career postseason appearances (14 starts), Wainwright is 4-5 with a 2.81 ERA, a 1.069 WHIP and 115 strikeouts across 105 2/3 innings. That’s a lot of experience the Cardinals will send to the mound in either a clinching or elimination scenario, and that’s likely what drove the team’s thinking in setting up its rotation. Plus, Wainwright has been strong again this year, coming up clutch for the Cards when they’ve needed it. The 39-year-old right-hander was 5-3 with a 3.15 ERA across 65 2/3 innings and 10 starts during the regular season.
Wainwright had 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings and leaned heavily on his trusty curveball once again this season, throwing the pitch 38 percent of the time and limiting batters to a .191 average on it. Wainwright also relies on his two-seam fastball and cutter more than his four-seamer, which hits 90 mph on a good day. Wainwright might not blow it past anyone anymore, but his offspeed stuff and pitch sequencing keep hitters off balance. The Cardinals veteran knows how to pitch in big moments.
One of the best pitchers in baseball last season, Flaherty had an inconsistent season, which wasn’t helped by the Cardinals’ schedule. The 24-year-old right-hander had a 4.91 ERA across nine starts and 40 1/3 innings, but he showed flashes of what he can do over his last two starts of the regular season. Flaherty struggled with his delivery this season, especially the mechanics of his landing, which affected the sharpness and accuracy of his pitches. But over Flaherty’s last two starts, against the Pirates and the Brewers, hitters had more awareness of his slider, and that made his fastball more effective for swings and misses. He also mixed his curveball in well, along with a sinker and changeup.
Flaherty has the ability to improve on his regular season with a dominant postseason. If the Cardinals send him to the mound, it will either be for a decisive Game 3 of the Wild Card Series or potentially Game 1 of the NL Division Series against either the Dodgers or Brewers.