A big thunderstorm helped the St. Louis Cardinals avoid a possible loss Tuesday when they trailed the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2 after two innings in Pittsburgh, but they got an even bigger break by not having to play a doubleheader the following day.
The Cardinals and Pirates left the schedule unchanged and played just a single game Wednesday evening. They certainly had time to play another game that afternoon, but that would’ve been a minor disaster for the Cardinals pitching staff.
They wouldn’t have been able to bring Jake Westbrook back because he had already thrown the two innings Tuesday, so they would’ve had to find a replacement starter at the worst possible time.
See, the Cardinals are currently on a 10-day roadtrip and a 13-game stretch without an off day. They didn’t play April 11 before a three-game set with the Milwaukee Brewers, and they won’t have another scheduled off day until April 25 as they travel home from Washington to face the Pirates for three games.
So the Cardinals are already in a tough part of their schedule, especially with good teams in the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals up next, and a doubleheader Wednesday would’ve really hampered their pitching staff heading into those games.
Shelby Miller was going to be the Cardinals starter for Wednesday’s regularly scheduled game regardless, but the Cardinals would’ve had to scramble to find someone to start the make-up game.
Joe Kelly might have been an option, but he pitched two innings Monday, and the Cardinals probably wouldn’t have let him pitch very deep into the game since he is now supposed to be a full-time relief pitcher.
If not Kelly, the Cardinals would’ve had to bring somebody up from the minor leagues to make an emergency start, and that wouldn’t have been good for anybody. Sure, Michael Wacha or Seth Maness could fill in if necessary, provided they didn’t just pitch a day or two before for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds, but the Cardinals would’ve had to make corresponding roster moves to make space for a one-day appearance by a minor-league pitcher.
Plus, the bullpen would almost certainly be strained because of a doubleheader early in the roadtrip.
Cardinals starters let the bullpen rest throughout the weekend against the Brewers, as the team needed just five innings from relievers in the three games against Milwaukee, but their workload would’ve changed instantly with a doubleheader.
None of the Cardinals’ options to start the make-up game would’ve been allowed to go deep into the game no matter how well the starter pitched, so the bullpen would have to cover significant portions of at least one game while still providing normal support in the nightcap.
All of a sudden the relievers would have racked up innings heading into four games against the Phillies. That, in turn, would put pressure on the starters to again pitch deep into games to try and save the bullpen from an overwhelming workload.
A major-league bullpen requires a delicate balance between not enough work and too much work, and the Cardinals bullpen almost certainly would’ve struggled to maintain that balance because the team simply had so many games in a relatively short period of time.
This wasn’t going to be an easy roadtrip in any case, but a doubleheader on the third day of the trip would’ve really made this part of the schedule difficult to survive. It certainly would’ve been difficult for the Cardinals to thrive in that situation and run off several wins against the Phillies and Nationials.
But as it stands, the Cardinals were given a respite Tuesday. They were already down two runs just two innings into the game, and Westbrook looked anything but sharp.
Of course, the game will have to be made up at some point, likely during a four-game series in late July when the Cardinals are scheduled to play in Pittsburgh.
A five-game series would surely create issues at that point in the season, but for now the Cardinals can attack the rest of the roadtrip without that potential loss on their record, and everyone got another day of rest leading into some important games on the road.