Bud Norris is one of the 10 most important Cardinals to watch in September, because of both his impact on the team's chances to secure a playoff spot and what it means to his future. (Jeff Curry/ USA Today Sports) 

By Rob Rains

The Cardinals collectively have something to play for in September after their resurgence the last six weeks thrust them right into the middle of the playoff race. For many, including the complete current starting rotation, this will be a new experience.

Of the players on the active 25-man roster for Friday night’s game – before the rosters can be expanded on Saturday – 18 of the 25 have zero postseason experience in the major leagues. In addition, three of the players on the disabled list – Jedd Gyorko, Marcell Ozuna and Mike Mayers – also have never played in a major-league playoff game.

While they will try to change that this September as a group, individually there will also be a lot at stake over the final four weeks of the season -- not only because of the effect a player’s performance will have on the pennant race but also his future as the Cardinals begin to formulate their plans for 2019 and beyond.

Here are 10 Cardinals who potentially have the most at stake with how they play the rest of the season (presented in alphabetical order);

Brett Cecil – Two things could happen if Cecil pitches well in September – the Cardinals could decide that maybe he has corrected the issues which affected his performance during his first two years in St. Louis and that they can plan on him to pitch as they expected when they signed him to a four-year deal. Or, maybe another team will see some projection from him and the Cardinals might have a better chance to trade Cecil this winter and get some relief from the final two years of the contract. Cecil has been better since coming off the DL the last time, with five scoreless appearances in his first six games, but then allowed three run on Friday night and recorded only one out. 

Jack Flaherty – It probably is unrealistic for the Cardinals to expect the 22-year-old right-hander to be as good in September as he was in August, but they can hope. Flaherty was 4-0 in five starts in the month with a 1.12 ERA and was clearly the team’s best starter. How well he pitches in the final month could determine the team’s playoff fate, and where he will fall in the postseason rotation, as well as increase his chances of earning a higher finish in the Rookie of the Year voting.

Austin Gomber – Gomber needs a strong September to help build has case that he should remain in the starting rotation in 2019 instead of moving back to the bullpen. There will be a lot of competition for the five starting spots for next season, depending on what moves the team makes over the winter, but having a left-hander as one of the five starters is definitely a plus. As with Flaherty the Cardinals would be very happy if Gomber can pitch as well in September as he ended August, when he went 5-0 for the month and allowed only five runs in 29 innings over his last five starts. .

Dakota Hudson – He has proven to be a valuable addition to the bullpen since his promotion from Triple A and likely will have the same role, pitching mostly in the seventh and eighth innings, over the final month of the season. Other than one bad game in Colorado, when he was not the only reliever who struggled, Hudson has been nearly perfect in that role. An interesting question will be how his performance affects the Cardinals’ thinking about his role in 2019 and beyond, and whether that will be in the bullpen or in the starting rotation.

Jose Martinez – At the end of July the prevailing opinion was that Martinez was about to be traded, especially to an American League club, where he could be a DH most of the time. A lot has happened since, however, and now Martinez seems to be entrenched as the team’s starting right fielder and third-place hitter, leading the team in RBIs and is hitting .314. How well he continues to play in September could affect the team’s thinking about Martinez’s future – and where, or if, they see him fitting in in 2019 when Tyler O’Neill could be a candidate for a full-time role and possibly Dexter Fowler will still be in the mix for playing time in right as well.

Bud Norris – If this list were being done in order of who might be the most interesting player to watch instead of alphabetical, Norris might be in the top spot – for two reasons. One, as the closer, he is likely going to have a direct bearing on most of the Cardinals’ wins in the month. Secondly, he is only on a one-year contract and is eligible to be a free agent again at the end of the season. Norris has not made it a secret that he would like to come back, but how much money does he want and how long of a contract will it take to sign him? With all of the money the Cardinals have blown on relievers in recent years, they might not want to meet his price or term demands.

Tyler O’Neill – Putting Ozuna on the DL for the last week helped open a spot in the lineup for O’Neill, who responded by hitting four homers in five games, offering a glimpse of his power potential. With Ozuna expected back, however, the challenge for manager Mike Shildt will be trying to find a way to play O’Neill except as a pinch-hitter. The Cardinals need to see O’Neill as much as possible to make a determination of what they can realistically expect from him next season.

Adam Wainwright
– There seems to be little doubt that September, or maybe October, will be Wainwright’s final month in a Cardinal uniform. If he returns from his latest elbow injury and performs well enough that he thinks he can still pitch, it most likely will be with another team in 2019. If he struggles, he might reluctantly agree that it is time to retire. Either way, September should be a celebration of his long and storied career in St. Louis with appropriate accolades from the fans to thank him for all of his accomplishments.

Luke Weaver – The Cardinals have too many pitchers for the rotation, and probably too many for bullpen roles, for 2019. Where Weaver fits, or if he fits, will be one of the questions for this off-season. The answer could be determined by how he pitches in September, especially if he proves he can be effective in a bullpen role. He will start on Sunday, but the Cardinals have made no commitment that he will stay in the rotation beyond that game. Pitching well also could help the Cardinals’ chances to trade Weaver this winter if that’s the route the front office decides to take.

Patrick Wisdom – A month ago it seemed likely that Wisdom was headed to minor=league free agency this winter and a chance with another organization in 2019. An injury finally opened a spot for him in the majors but he still has had only limited opportunities. Wisdom will most likely be used mostly as a pinch-hitter the rest of the year, a tough role for a player used to starting, but performing well will increase his chances of remaining on the 40-man roster during the off-season. He did not hurt his cause by hitting his second career homer on Friday night. 

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains