Not to be a grouch or anything, but I’ve written so much on this topic that I’m managing to bore myself … so with that in mind, I’ll try to keep this brief.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny certainly has attributes, and he’s won a lot of games since his pre-2012 hiring. In fact, the St. Louis has the most regular-season wins in MLB since the start of the ’12 season.
His career winning percentage as the Cards’ manager is the best (minimum five seasons) since Eddie Dyer (.578) held the job from 1946 through 1950.
Matheny didn’t exactly take over a rebuilding project; the 2011 Cardinals won the World Series. But he moved into the manager’s office at a time when Albert Pujols was about to move to Anaheim. And rotation ace Chris Carpenter, who pitched the 2011 team all the way to the victory parade, made only three regular-season starts in 2012 before retiring because of an injury.
For the most part Matheny has done a good job of guiding his teams through injuries and hard times.
For the most part he’s commanded the players’ attention and respect.
For the most part he’s represented the franchise in an admirable away, and is good for Bill DeWitt’s business.
But Matheny would do well for himself and the team if he could just evolve and do away with some bad habits and tendencies.
Now, the Matheny apologists would say something like: well, he’s won more games than anybody since 2012 … so what bad habits? It’s an interesting argument. I tend to be a bottom-line guy, but there are no absolutes here.
I’m going to drop a vague reference on you here, but please follow me along on this one…
My favorite race horse of all time was Spectacular Bid. “Bid” was ridden by a young jockey named Ron Franklin. Bid’s trainer, Bud Delp, was criticized for entrusting the inexperienced Franklin to handle this truly spectacular thoroughbred. Spectacular Bid won the 1979 Kentucky Derby with Franklin aboard. Bid carried Franklin to a triumph in the Preakness. But with this magnificent creature poised to win the Triple Crown, Franklin got overly aggressive in the backstretch, foolishly pushing Bid too hard, too soon in the exhausting Belmont. Though Delp tried to cover Franklin with an excuse — supposedly Bid had a safety pin stuck in his hoof during the race — no savvy person bought the story. The Belmont was lost by a huge tactical blunder that cost Spectacular Bid the Triple Crown.
The point: Winning doesn’t automatically mean that you are great. It’s a little more complex than that.
And the Cardinals prepare for 2017, they’re in a disturbing pattern of having the season end earlier and earlier.
In 2013, the Cards won the 2013 NL pennant and took Boston to six games before losing the World Series. They went down in three straight losses after leading the series 2-1 after the first three contests.
In 2014, the Cardinals advanced to the NLCS, were tied 1-1 with the Giants, then lost three in a row at San Francisco to get shoved out of the postseason.
In 2015 the 100-win Cardinals won the opener from the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS, then got punched into the offseason by getting hammered in three straight defeats.
In 2016, the Cardinals receded t0 86 wins and failed to make the postseason tournament.
You can make the case that the Cardinals are going in the wrong direction.
Some of that is on ownership and management and the cautious spending.
But my hope for Matheny is based on a few simple matters.
Ten quick thoughts:
1. Don’t play favorites when making playing-time and lineup decisions. Maximize your team’s chances of winning by basing decisions on merit rather than personal likes/dislikes.
2. Treat young players with more respect by being more consistent in communicating.
3. Terminate the double standards. You don’t bury a player like, say, Tommy Pham after he has a couple of bad games when he could help your team during the month of September, with Brandon Moss drowning in one of the worst hitting slumps we’ve ever seen.
4. Respect the fact that all players are different. You can’t have a 25-man roster with 25 similar personalities and backgrounds. Carlos Martinez isn’t Adam Wainwright. Kolten Wong isn’t Matt Carpenter. Randal Grichuk isn’t Yadier Molina. This ain’t a cookie-cutter assembly line.
5. Don’t stick with a struggling starting pitcher and put a favorable outcome at risk just so you can get him a “Win” in the boxscore. The only thing that matters is getting an actual win for the team … a team that in 2016 missed making the playoffs by one game.
6. Don’t make decisions based on the desire to give your closer a chance to collect a save. Cheap saves mean nothing if it means pushing a closer that should be resting his arm. Gratuitous use of a closer could cost your team later. And it’s advisable to bring your closer (if he’s fresh and physically ready) in early to douse a dangerous situation with a game on the line. To his credit, Matheny began to do this — on some occasions — last season.
7. You can’t keep pushing and pushing and pushing certain individuals — reliever Kevin Siegrist is an example. Why run him into the ground when you’re often carrying an extra reliever, anyway?
8. The Cardinals must improve their defense in 2017, and it’s important to play guys at their best positions. You don’t go into Wrigley Field and play K. Wong in left field.
9. Please wean yourself from going to small sample sizes. It’s silly to choose a player based on five career plate appearances against an opposing team’s pitcher.
10. Baseball is a serious competition. It’s also supposed to be a joyful endeavor, so loosen up and encourage the boys to have fun.
Thanks for reading …
Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone…