The Wild Card is a show unlike any other. It should be treated that way.

The Wild Card race this year proves to be very exciting. With the Cardinals only a half game back of the Giants, they will possibly find themselves in a one game showdown. Provided that possibility becomes a reality, how will the Cardinals approach the game? Every Wild Card game played since its introduction in 2012 has seen the use of conventional everyday pitching strategy.

Here, I am not talking about the pitching itself, as that is based on scouting reports, but the timing of taking starters out after going as deep as possible. Managers use this strategy for the regular season and series play in order to not overwork the bullpen.  However, you only play one game in the Wild Card. Therefore, the conventional strategy should change.

Using a conventional approach, the Cardinals should undoubtedly start Carlos Martinez and that would not change using a different approach. The only thing that would change is when he is removed from the game.

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Statistical trends show that a pitcher’s effectiveness declines the more times he goes through an opponents batting order.

Martinez falls victim to this trend as well. Basing effectiveness off of ERA, opp. AVG, OBP, and SLG%,  he virtually shuts the door the first time through the order. Posting a 1.62 ERA with an opponents slash line of .154/.262/.198 the first time through gives the Cardinal offense a great opportunity to get a lead early.

However, Martinez experiences a huge spike in all categories during the second rotation posting an ERA and slash line of 3.92/.283/.354/.431. In order to combat this, the Cardinals should relieve Martinez at some point during the second time through or at the first sign of trouble. Doing so takes nothing away from Martinez’s ability at all. The Cardinals just could not afford to let a situation to get the slightest bit out of hand. Once the Cardinals relieve Martinez, who will the Cardinals bring in?

Cardinals Need to Get Creative Down the Stretch

Leaving your best pitcher for the end of the game may not allow him to influence the game at all. The Cardinals can learn from other’s mistakes

The best option to bring in either after Martinez or before the 9th at least is Seuang-whan Oh (1.89 ERA). Oh performed a higher level than anyone could ever imagine this season. Oh earned his closer role, but he should not exclusively play that role for the Wild Card game. Thinking back to 2012 when the Cardinals faced the Braves in the first Wild Card game, the Braves left their best pitcher, Craig Kimbrel, to play his usual role to close out the 9th. Although he pitched in the 9th, the Cardinals were already up 6-3 and had a high probability of winning already.

Therefore, Kimbrel had no distinct impact on the game at all. The Pirates found themselves in the same situation with Melancon the last two seasons. However, the Pirates scored a total of 0 runs in those two games so throwing Melancon late did not factor into their loss.

In a one game situation, the Cardinals should consider every possible way to gain an advantage. Following a plan of early removal, the Cardinals can ensure their best pitchers can influence the game before it can get awry. Thus, they gain a distinct advantage by utilizing their pitchers’ effectiveness to limit an opponent’s scoring. Meanwhile, the Cardinal’s high power offense slugs their way to a potential victory.

Photo by Dennis Wierzbicki of USA today

Stats by fangraphs.com

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