I want to start out with this:
I think Mike Matheny managed this series extremely poorly. I won’t pretend that I would be a better manager than him. It’s easy to sit in my oversized reclining chair and question his moves. But, second guessing is what we do and there are certainly things I would have done differently.
The absence of Michael Wacha in Game 4 when starter Shelby Miller struggled early on was certainly puzzling. If that was not the spot to use him, why was he on the NLCS roster?
Thursday night’s Game 5 was even more bizarre. I don’t mind the move to take Adam Wainwright out. Yes, he had retired his last 10 batters, but as he is dealing with elbow trouble and already at 100 pitches, this is not an egregious error. Double switching your number three hitter out in a one run elimination game is mind boggling, however. Especially with a bullpen as unstable as it has been. Pinch hitting for the defensive replacement, in this point in the game, is the right move, though it makes for a humorous and slightly sad situation. Oscar Taveras’s bases loaded ground out sent the game tied into the bottom of the 9th, and Matheny’s most glaring mistake was made.
I get it. After Rosenthal’s Game 2’s 9th inning, many fans didn’t trust him anymore. He has struggled with command all season. But he’s still the best relief option Matheny has in the bullpen. He has an electrifying fastball and can mix it up with a good changeup. The command is an issue, yes, but since September 1st his walk rate is comparable to what it was all season. Michael Wacha, on the other hand, had thrown a whopping 16 2/3 shaky innings since June 17th. None of which have come in the previous 20 days. Why Matheny thought the bottom of the 9th in an elimination game was the time to go to his 22 year old right hander will always be a mystery to me. As Bernie Miklasz likes to say, he was treating it like a game in mid-June. I’m not saying the Cardinals would have won had Rosenthal come in. There’s always a chance he can’t find his command, or even throws a solid one or two innings and they lose later. But it was absolutely essential for Mike Matheny to play inning by inning with his season on the line, and he failed. And his best bullpen arm was sitting in the bullpen watching.
With all that being said with more words than intended, this series loss is not on Mike Matheny.
The Cardinals offense scored 3.2 runs a game in this series after finishing 24th in runs scored in the regular season, by far the worst number of any playoff team.
The Cardinals bench consisted of 6 batters, an unusual number in a postseason series, none of whom were particularly useful with the bat in the regular season. Star prospect Oscar Taveras has shown flashes of potential, and succeeded in pinch hitting situations, but has underwhelmed as a whole all season. The other 5 consisted of 2 backup catchers, two light hitting middle infielders, and an outfield defensive specialist.
The starting pitching succeeded in getting out of the 6th inning only once: Wainwright’s excellent performance in Game 5.
As a result, an understaffed and overworked Cardinals bullpen walked 10 batters in 16 1/3 innings of work, good for what averages out to 5.51 BB/9 (higher than Rosenthal’s average, for those keeping track).
Then there were the mistakes.
After battling back in Game 3, Randy Choate allowed a leadoff walk, a hit, and then threw a sacrifice bunt into the right field bullpen to bring home the game winning run.
Game 4 saw Jon Jay drop an extremely catchable ball in the first inning to lead to a run, and then Matt Adams have a complete meltdown at first base in the 6th. After failing to field a ball cleanly, he allowed the tying run to score on an infield “hit”. The next batter, Adams cleanly fielded a ball and made an ill-advised throw to second base without looking the runner back to third, leading to the game tying run. Neither was counted as an error, but there’s no question the plays should have been made. The first is a physical mistake. Those happen. The second was a mental error that is absolutely inexcusable, and it ultimately allowed the game winning run to score.
Game 5 saw Jay get doubled up on a Jhonny Peralta line drive in the first inning. Jay can’t get caught straying there. There are two options for that ball: caught or a double in the corner. Jay needs to be going back to the base no matter what, as that is what he would have done on the former, and was scoring no matter what on the latter.
There were the aforementioned questionable managing moves later in the game, but the fact is Pat Neshek, the team’s most reliable reliever all season long, left a meatball hanging over the middle of the plate to Michael Morse and he knew what to do with it. Tie ball game. We all saw what happened next.
I was just told I’m “in denial” for what I’m about to say, but I couldn’t disagree more.
Mike Matheny did not lose Game 3, Game 4, or Game 5, or this series.
Matheny did not walk a ridiculous percentage of batters, nor was he the one to make outs in key situations at the plate or throwing the ball all over the field.
Costly errors, both physical and mental contributed. A lack of command in the bullpen contributed. A serious lack of clutch hitting and timely offense contributed. And, yes, Mike Matheny contributed as well.
I’m seeing people say Matheny should be fired. I’m seeing others say we should be happy for 3 NLCS appearances in 3 years under him. This just confirms what I have believed for years.
Managers get both too much credit and too much blame.