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Michael Wacha out of Cardinals NLDS rotation, but Yadier Molina still looms large

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES -- As the Dodgers get ready for a rematch of sorts with the Cardinals, one round earlier than they were knocked out in 2013 by St. Louis, the 2014 incarnation has a few differences, and a few similarities to last year.

For one, Michael Wacha will not start a game for the Cardinals in the NLDS. This is great news for many Dodgers fans who woke up with night terrors involving Wacha after he completely shut down the Dodgers in the 2013 NLDS. Wacha beat the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw twice, allowing no runs in 13⅔ innings in his two starts, a performance so good that Jon Morosi weirdly mocked the Dodgers for drafting Corey Seager one spot ahead of Wacha.

But this season Wacha missed 68 games on the disabled list with a stress reaction in his right shoulder. In four September starts in his return, Wacha had a 5.40 ERA, with seven walks and 11 strikeouts in 16⅔ innings. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny announced on Wednesday that Wacha will be in the bullpen for the NLDS.


The Cardinals' rotation for the NLDS is Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Shelby Miller.

Miller was the forgotten man in the NLCS for St. Louis in 2013, on the roster but didn't pitch a single inning. But he made 31 starts for the Cardinals in 2014, and since the All-Star break was 3-1 with a 2.92 ERA in 16 games, including 15 starts, with 54 strikeouts and 19 walks in 74 innings.

Lackey since arriving in a trade from Boston put up eight quality starts in 10 outings with the Cardinals, but also saw opposing batters hit .286/.331/.461 with nine home runs against him.


Lackey was one of the easiest pitchers to run on in Boston, allowing 95 stolen bases in the three years he pitched from 2010-13, and opposing runners were successful in 15 of 16 attempts in his 21 starts for the Red Sox in 2014. But since coming to St. Louis, would-be runners only attempted four steals in 10 starts, and were caught twice.

Part of that is the Yadier Molina factor, having the game's best catcher behind the plate. But Molina has only caught five of Lackey's 10 starts, and runners are 1-for-2 in steals in those games.

Molina missed 40 games after needing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb, but since his return has been just as effective in shutting down the running game.

He threw out 17 of 35 runners (48.6 percent) in 703 defensive innings before injuring his thumb, roughly one attempt every 20 innings.

Since his return, Molina has thrown out four of nine runners (44.4 percent) in 228⅔ innings, roughly one attempt every 25 innings.

Dee Gordon, who led the majors with 64 stolen bases in 2014 and stole at a 77-percent clip, has one career stolen base in four attempts against Molina, including 0-for-1 this season. The successful steal came in 2012, with reliever Jason Motte on the mound.

But Gordon said even with Molina behind the plate he would continue to run when the opportunity comes.

"I can't lose the aggressiveness, that's what the team needs," Gordon said. "I felt like going into the winter that was the one thing we needed."

Old friend

The Dodgers had one steal in their only attempt against Molina and the Cardinals in the 2013 NLDS, and it was Mark Ellis who turned the trick.

Ellis, now in St. Louis, has not had a good season for the Cardinals. He hit just .180/.253/.213 in 73 games, and has started all of six times since the All-Star break. He last got a hit on Aug. 12, ending his regular season in an 0-for-16 slump.