ATLANTA -- Manager Mike Matheny's use of his top three relievers has been deliberate and consistent since Edward Mujica stepped in as the team's seventh-inning setup man at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. The sequence of Mujica, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte to preserve a narrow lead over the final three innings is a pattern that Matheny has hardly needed to deviate from.
Friday's win-or-go-home Wild Card game could test that.
For the Cardinals, the best-case scenario would be that starter Kyle Lohse covers at least the first six innings. Matheny could then stick to the script to close out the game.
If the game doesn't progress as such, however, Matheny could have game-altering decisions to make with his bullpen in the middle innings. As hesitant as he's been to change a late-inning formula that has worked, Friday could be the situation in which he does call on one of those three earlier than usual or for more than one inning, if a game situation dictates such.
"You don't take anything off the table in a situation like this," Matheny said on Friday. "The best shot is the best guy at that particular time with all the variables in place, and we've thought about it. We've gone through and put some potential situations out there, and we feel we're pretty covered.
"But we do like what the back end of our 'pen has done. You can't ignore the success they've had as we've kept them consistently in those roles. So it will be a balance there, as well. But once again, it's a different animal we're dealing with today."
Adding starters Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly onto the roster for this game does fortify the bullpen and could allow for Matheny to avoid pulling the trigger on using either of his two setup men earlier than desired.