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Five Cardinals thoughts from sports columnist Ben Frederickson . . .  

1. Is this the season for six?

Seemingly every year, we kick around the notion of how the Cardinals could benefit from a six-man rotation to maximize and weaponize their almost always rich pitching depth.

It never happens. Tradition wins out.

So, why not use a season that is going to turn tradition on its head to try something new?

One of the few benefits from a season delayed by the coronavirus pandemic in terms of competitive reasons for the Cardinals is the news that Miles Mikolas is expected to be ready to roll after his forearm issues this spring.

That means — if all starters progress through Camp 2.0 without injury — the Cardinals have a natural six-man rotation: Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson, Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright and Kwang-Hyun Kim.

Kim and Martinez were supposed to be battling for the fifth spot in the rotation before spring training was canceled. Then Mikolas got hurt and the five-man appeared to be set while he healed. Now there's one extra arm again. This should be a good thing.

Now that the group is back to six, there’s little reason to force someone out just for the sake of tradition. Especially considering what we know about pitchers. They are creatures of schedule, routine and repetition. Those schedules, routines and repetition have been drastically altered by a canceled spring training, followed by a holding pattern, followed by a sprint back to full speed. No one wants to predict an injury or arm-related snag, but the chances for those are going to be high in 2020.

John Mozeliak has not confirmed a six-man rotation, and certainly manager Mike Shildt and pitching coach Mike Maddux will weigh in on the idea, but the president of baseball operations did say he wants seven to eight pitchers who are stretched out enough to provide three to four quality innings at a moment’s notice.

Between Austin Gomber, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Genesis Cabrera and others, the Cardinals have 10 to 11 pitchers who would be happy to get that chance.

The best way to start tapping into such an array of talented arms during a 60-game sprint would be to open the rotation up by one spot.

The schedule even invites it.

Sixty games to make the playoffs.

Ten starts per starter.

2. One sleeper DH option

If the Cardinals decide they want a designated hitter who truly looks the part, they can plug Tyler O’Neill in there and use the space it creates in the outfield to find more reps for Lane Thomas and Dylan Carlson.

If the Cardinals decide they want to use the DH to get Tommy Edman opportunities, they can DH Matt Carpenter and start Edman at third.

You will see Brad Miller there. And Rangel Ravelo. Mozeliak has made it clear he doesn’t view the DH as a one-person job.

If that’s the case, don’t rule out this candidate: Matt Wieters.

If the Cardinals wind up carrying three catchers on their expanded roster, Wieters could and should get some consideration for some DH reps.

The switch-hitting Wieters finished last season with 15 extra-base hits and 11 home runs in just 168 at-bats. He averaged one homer every 15.3 at-bats, which led the 2019 team among any hitter with more than 50 ABs.

3. A cap tip to the bearded wonder

Cardinals coverage will suffer this season due to the absence of John Brebbia from the clubhouse as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. The 30-year-old righthander has become a go-to quote and fan favorite over the years, but he’s more than just a smiling, bearded face. He had quietly become a cornerstone in the bullpen.

Brebbia’s 3.14 ERA during his 175 innings pitched since 2017 ranks 37th among all qualifying MLB relievers, and first among qualifying Cardinals relievers during that span.

Since 2017, Brebbia has led Cardinals relievers in appearances (161), innings pitched (175) and strikeouts (198).

He will be missed.

4. Help from outside? Don't bet on it

Sorry to be a buzzkill, but if you are betting on the Cardinals signing Yasiel Puig when the roster freeze lifts, prepare to be disappointed.

Beyond that, I would not bet on the Cardinals making any significant roster additions during this 60-game season, unless there is some sort of injury that drastically changes the picture. Nolan Arenado’s contract was big before the coronavirus tightened budgets across baseball. There will be sellers at the new August 31 trade deadline – but who will be buying? Recent history suggests it won’t be the Cards, and that was before the pandemic.

5. Welcome back!

It's good to be talking baseball — not baseball labor beef — again, isn't it?

We weathered the players vs. owners storm. Let's hope this season lasts.


Ben Frederickson

@Ben_Fred on Twitter

bfrederickson@post-dispatch.com

This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

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