ST. LOUIS – Adam Wainwright made only four starts and the St. Louis Cardinals still won 100 games – and baseball’s toughest division – with their organizational pitching depth and next-man-up attitude.
Yadier Molina – the heart-and-soul catcher and seven-time Gold Glove winner – might be the one player St. Louis couldn’t replace.
Now that Wainwright and Molina have been cleared for what should be an epic National League division series, the Cardinals will have even more championship experience to draw upon during their first-ever playoff matchup against the Cubs.
Wainwright was supposed to be done for the year when he tore an Achilles tendon in late April, but St. Louis manager Mike Matheny confirmed his Opening Day starter will be on the best-of-five roster and available out of the bullpen for Game 1 on Friday at Busch Stadium.
Molina sprained his left thumb on Sept. 20 at Wrigley Field and hasn’t played in a game since making that tag at the plate. It’s been a down year for the seven-time All-Star (.660 OPS), but his presence means so much to the St. Louis pitching staff and clubhouse.
“I think he feels pain,” Matheny said after Thursday’s workout. “He just doesn’t recognize it, or know how to define it.
“Yadi has an ability (to) put some of those things behind (and) not just play the game, but play it well. And be able to put the distraction away – whatever it is that’s bothering him – and bring something good to the field.
“He’s a smart guy, too. He doesn’t want to go out there if he’s not able to contribute. If he’s not able to compete and do what he needs to do, he knows that would hurt our club. And right now, that’s not the situation that we’re in. We’re very fortunate.”
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Wainwright made three one-inning relief appearances during the final week of the regular season. That’s how the Cardinals probably envision using their 6-foot-7 right-hander as a playoff weapon.
Wainwright famously froze Carlos Beltran with the bases loaded to eliminate the New York Mets in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, setting the stage for another World Series title.
“(It’s) an incredible story when a lot of people said he wouldn’t make it back this year,” Matheny said. “But he’s also a very sharp pitcher right now. He looks good. And we’re going to give him opportunities, too, in big situations.”