Mike Matheny Looks Overwhelmed, and I Can’t Say I Blame Him

Far be it for me to stick up for Mike Matheny; lord knows he has enough sycophants in this town. But the Cardinals manager is caught in a vortex right now.

Leave a tiring starter in the game, instead of relying on the bullpen … BOOM … the sound of a game blowing up on the Cardinals.

Remove a cruising, reasonably fresh starter a little early to put your trust in the bullpen … LIGHTNING, THUNDER … another potential victory gets zapped and burns to ash.

I’m not saying that Matheny was right to leave Mike Leake in Saturday’s game in Chicago to take on the Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber in showdown encounter instead of summoning any of his three lefty relievers from the bullpen to disarm the threat. I first-guessed Matheny’s strategy there, before Schwarber blasted a grand slam that carried the Cubs to victory.

And I’m certainly not saying I agreed with Matheny’s Wednesday-night call to yank a peeved Lance Lynn for a pinch hitter after five innings, 78 pitches and one allowed run. Counting on Dexter Fowler to come through with a pinch-hit worked out swell, with Dex slashing an RBI double to raise the Cards’ lead to 4-1. But entrusting Fowler to come up with a big hit also meant that you were entrusting a terrible bullpen to protect that lead over four innings … in a batting cage of a ballpark that creates too many cheap home runs. And sure enough, the Reds ruined Matheny’s night with a five-run seventh inning that featured homers off lefty Brett Cecil and RH Trevor Rosenthal. Final: Reds 6, Cards 4.

In deploying Fowler there, Matheny also indicated a shortage of trust in Lynn to last much longer. So Matheny wanted to be aggressive in trying to get the Cardinals some extra runs and a larger cushion. It would have helped if Fowler’s double –in addition to plating an RBI — also scored Eric Fryer. But (what else is new?) Fryer was thrown out at the plate.

In Tuesday’s loss to the Reds, Matheny didn’t trust his dormant offense to charge back from a modest 2-0 lead in the third inning; he made that clear by winning a replay challenge that took away an out  from his own team. Rather than concede a sac fly by Eugenio Suarez and that two-run lead, Matheny had Stephen Piscotty’s catch nullified through replay. The manager put starting pitcher Adam Wainwright in a position of having to get four outs instead of three. This process did not go smoothly, with Waino walking Suarez to load the bases and setting up the grand-slam homer for the immortal Scooter “Bambino” Gennett. The Reds’ 13-1 rout was on.

Matheny is in a manager’s hazard zone.

It seems like every big decision boomerangs and smacks him upside the head.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Trust Leake instead of the bullpen … bye-bye win.

Trust Wainwright instead of your team’s offense … bye-bye win.

Trust the bullpen instead of Lynn … bye-bye win.

We can debate the merit of each decision Matheny makes. He’s a shaky tactician. But to me, the larger issue is this: we’re seeing the intense stress creeping into a manager’s confidence who is supervising a collapsing team that had lost 16 of 21 through Wednesday.

We have watched him willing to try everything to make things better … only to have it all turn into a toxic spill.

Wednesday night, I think Matheny was wrong to put the ball and the game in the hands of a volatile bullpen that can burst into flames at any moment.

But even if Lynn had gone another inning, Brett Cecil was probably going to end up being a part of that game. Cecil had been pitching better lately, and the GM had signed him for $30.5 million, and at some point you just have to give Cecil a meaningful role.

Of course, Cecil was pulverized for a three-run homer that tied it at 4-4.

If you’re saying Matheny was stupid to have faith in Cecil, I understand where you are coming from.

But with the game at 4-4, still winnable, and a Reds runner on second, Matheny beckoned Trevor Rosenthal — his best reliever who’s armed with a fearsome 42 percent strikeout rate. Using Rosenthal was absolutely the correct move.

Of course … first pitch …two-run homer by Joey Votto.

Votto was only 1 for 7 in his career vs. Rosenthal before cranking the winning HR.

No, I do not think Matheny is adept at running a bullpen.

But with this particular bullpen, what the hell is he supposed to do?

The St. Louis bullpen ERA through Wednesday, 4.82, ranked 26th in the majors. St. Louis relievers have done the worst job in the majors at preventing inherited runners from scoring. Just under 41 percent have scored, and that’s a staggeringly bad rate.

Is Matheny supposed to stretch his starters out and have them go deeper into games to avoid calling on the bullpen? Yeah, and then we’ll see the starters wear down, break down, and buckle under the strain of heavy innings. That wouldn’t be smart.

Earlier this week, I gave you a sad little stat on the Cardinals’ performance late in games.

To repeat and update: from the 7th inning on, they’ve scored the fewest runs in the majors (60.) And they’ve been torched by the most runs (112) in the majors.

Once the Cardinals get past the sixth inning, they have a run-differential of minus 52.

I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this among the many teams I’ve followed or covered through the years.

The late-inning woes worsened during the Cards’ 5-16 baseball famine that they were hoping to ease during Thursday’s series finale at Cincinnati.

Consider these numbers that illustrate the wickedness of the 5-16 blight:

— In the 21 games the Cardinals were outscored  48 to 11  from the 7th inning on.

— Yes. I said 48 to 11.

— The Cardinals’ ERA from the 7th inning on during the 21 games was 7.67.

— From the 7th inning on over the 21 games, the Cardinals batted .180 with a .236 OBP, and a  .312 slug, and only 10 runs batted with their 222 plate appearances.

— From the 7th on, their park-adjusted runs created over 21 games was 71 percent below the league average.

— Yes, I said 71 percent below average.

Again: yes, Matheny makes me wacko at times, but it’s not as if there are any simple remedies or strategies that he can turn to to make everything glossy and great. He’s screwed up some stuff, sure, and owns some responsibility for these late-inning fiascos.

But Matheny has a tattered, weak bullpen.

He has hitters that get smaller late in games.

Can Matheny borrow Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances and Craig Kimbrel and put them in his bullpen? This would be against the rules, I believe.

Can Matheny call 911 and bring in Ryan Zimmerman, Jake Lamb, or Aaron Judge to take some money-time at-bats for the Cards? Sorry, but no.

When these games get late and tense, what can Matheny call on and have strong confidence in his decisions? Unless something changes immediately and drastically, I don’t see much of anything that reinforces  anyone’s  confidence.  So he’s feverishly making strategical moves that seemingly contradict the same moves he made a couple of days ago. And it all goes kablooey.

So if Matheny looks frazzled, I can understand why.

If he’s making panic moves, it’s probably because he’s … well, you know, panicked.

Thanks for reading …


More: For the Fans Who Want Mike Matheny Fired: It Ain’t Going To Happen

  • Christopher Toth

    Bernie, respectfully disagree with one of your premises.

    “This bullpen” is a reflection of how Matheny’s tactically managed his bullpen over the last several years.

    As such, we can’t lament the predicament he finds himself in vis a vis current bullpen choices available to him because he bears significant ownership of those choices (as does Mo too).

    In business they call this the downward “spin” wherein one of two things must happen if you are to avoid outright collapse.

    One, fire the guys who are caught up in the spin – e.g., Matheny & his coaching staff – or two, ownership needs to back Matheny fully and publicly so as to extricate him from a very public downward spin that is now clouding his every decision.

    Personally, I’d choose option one as I don’t think he’s an effective major league World Series caliber type manager, but I am not the one signing Matheny’s paycheck.

    That said, I agree with you Matheny isn’t going anywhere where so Dewitt and Mo should take ownership of this year’s fiasco and admit they are all to blame and apologize to the fans. If you believe you have the best – and smartest – fans in baseball, don’t test their credulity anymore about this particular team and its managers being any where near post-season viable.

  • badgerboy23

    I agree to some extent that at this point MM is snake bit regarding decisions. At the same time, he has created the general malaise that oozes from this club and has since Oquendo left. There is no passion, no fire, no joy, no fun. 25 guys going through the motions. MM has always stressed that you don’t get too high, too low, it’s a long season. Fair enough. But these guys have no chance of crawling out of the passionless baseball canyon they enter every day at the clubhouse door. Mr. “I’ve got this under control” lost this team in 2016 ST.

  • M W

    Matheny is the one that allows Maloney to continue to coach 3rd base. Matheny is the one that encourages his players “aggressiveness” on the basepaths. Matheny is the one that insisted on keeping an extra reliever at the expense of his bench.

    Matheny is the one that has allowed this team to be lethargic, dumb and piss poor fundamentally.

    • Elena Dawson

      Absolutely. It’s all, if not the majority of the issues/decision making in Matheny. Plan and simple. Mozailak has some blame as well. The team play like they are just going through the motions. The basics of baseball is null & void on this team and it makes me sick honestly. These guys making millions or several thousands of dollars don’t deserve it the way they’re playing. I got 9 game vouchers for free home games. I don’t even want to go with they they’re playing. I’d rather keep $50 in my pocket, & maybe watch them on tv, than go and watch them lose in person. I love the Cardinals, but a fan has to draw the line.

      • Lance Owens

        I’ve been saying this, I think it has become painfully obvious Matheny has lost this team. They don’t go all out every night like we are used to seeing. Everyone keeps seeing the same issues with this team, but a lot will not admit the vast majority comes back to Matheny.

  • Brad Bugger

    It is time to blow up this roster. If I were GM for a day, I’d auction off Carpenter, Wong, Lynn, Rosenthal, Oh and Fowler. And I’d give Yadi the option of going somewhere competitive to finish out his career, and open the door for Kelly. Trade for as many prospects as the market will bear, bring up the kids from AAA and AA, and begin the long, painful process of rebuilding. Tank away in search for high draft picks. And find a manager who is good at teaching fundamentals while you’re at it.

  • Jeff Morris

    Boy, have I been having flashbacks to 2007 lately. Kip Wells, Randy Flores, Josh Hancock…

    • JDinSTL

      Krap Wells

  • Terry Ryno

    The stupidest move MM or any manager has ever made was giving away an out. I mean you should be willing to lie, fight, beg, or steal to an out and this guy gives one away? That is nothing but stupid.
    Bernie, you ask what he should do with to bullpen, well forget them. Use Johnny P for middle relief, run Garcia out in 8th and whoever else is on the bench can have the 9th. Can’t be any worse. Not recommending this as a regular thing but what the heck try one time.

  • rightthinker4

    Bill Parcells said you are what your record says you are. The are now 26-32, have lost 7 games in a row, and are 1/2 game away from being in last place in the division. Is all of this on MM? No, but every game it seems like he does something to help the team lose. Take Lynn out after throwing 78 pitches and leading 3-1 at the time. Losing an out through a challenge, causing Wainwright to throw more pitches. Let Leake who was spent, pitch to Schwarber with the bases loaded. Continues to allow Maloney to coach thirdbase. A lot of this teams problems can be put on MM. I don’t think he’s overwhelmed. I don’t think he’s a good manager.

  • Bill K Fisher

    .333 .359 .707 1.066 10 HRs Matt Adams’ career numbers in GAB. I wonder if he’d have made a difference in this series. Just one of many crazy moves by Mo, trading our best bench thumper for some waterbug in A ball.

    • BradW

      Ha ha. We will probably end up trading one or two of our top 5 prospects to get Adams back to play first base full time after the end of the season. That would be quite a spectacle.

    • Elena Dawson

      I hated that they let Adams go. He was our 1st baseman. Not Carpenter. Adams played a really good 1st base too in my opinion. Now his hitting struggled. I believed if he had played regularly his batting would have gotten better. But when you sit on the bench the majority of the time ones skills tend to fall by the waist side. Also the man got in shape, lost all that weight to be a better player and Matheny and Mo more or less gave him the finger. I’m happy he’s doing well for Atlanta. But I wish he was playing 1B for the Cardinals.

      • Elliott C. Days

        I agree. Get rid of Wong and keep Adams as a real 1st baseman.

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    • maryville

      A team that has Matt Adams as its first baseman isn’t a strong contender for much of anything . . . . .

      • Bill K Fisher

        What about a team with a left handed power hitter coming off the bench with career numbers like .328 .349 .555 .904 OPS ? Adams was one of, if not the best pinch hitter the Cardinals have ever had. You don’t just give a guy like that away for nothing. But Mo sure did.

        • maryville

          I would like to think that MO shopped Adams around and took the best offer . . . . .

          • Bill K Fisher

            I’d like to believe that too, but looking at the current illogical and inferior roster, I can’t bring myself to give him the benefit of the doubt.

      • That’s funny, because neither is a team that has Matt Carpenter. So, your point is?

      • Mark Lee Arbogast

        They could have kept Adams if they would have let Jhonny go instead. Everybody knew he was done here, except MO I guess

  • JeremyR

    While I think the performance of his players has let Matheny down, at the same time, Matheny is part of the reason his players perform so poorly.

    He always has to guy that he always uses and he rides them until they get arm fatigue and become ineffective. This year that’s Bowman. Siegrist was that guy in the past and never has really recovered.

    The conversely, he (and Mo) have certain pitchers in the bullpen that just sit there and rot until blowouts.

  • Tom Conroy

    I just can’t believe that some of those arms in the minors can’t be better than what the Cardinals are putting out there in the sixth or seventh when the starter is done. Use that 10-day DL rule like other clubs are using it and try something different.

  • Jim Sanders

    I agree that it is not all Matheny’s fault. There is enough blame to go around. Mo’s off season acquisitions have been awful. Fowler and Cecil have both been a bust. Our returning players have done less than last year, except Gyorko and Yadi. Third base coach has failed several times. Starting pitching has been pretty good, but we get no runs so they still struggle to win. Most of our relievers have been unreliable, if not awful at times.
    I think it’s time to face the fact that we’re not a Championship team this year. Bring up some of the youngsters, let them play and let’s just have some fun. Let’s figure out what we have and what we need for next year.
    I’m a lifelong Cardinals fan. I want to win every year and our record has been better than most. There is no team ever that hasn’t had a few bad years from time to time. Guess this is just our time…Go Cards!!!!

    • Louis

      I would’t say that. A manager is supposed to get the best out of his players. I have watched almost every single one of these players on this roster play much better in their careers. Something is wrong and this roster needs a fire lit up under them. Matheny does not provide that.

  • Elliott C. Days

    Where is Jose Oquendo? He needs to be the manager. This is not Cardinal Baseball! They look like a high school team, mental lapses, defensive blunders, and piss poor base running. Isn’t high school where we got him from? This is madness. Since when do the cardinals lack pitching and defense.

  • Elliott C. Days

    Ah yeah and fire the hitting coach. He is garbage.

  • Richard Craig Friedman

    Since Bernie says Matheny won’t be fired, this team will be stuck in the mud indefinitely. Get used to it!

  • Matheny has a severely flawed roster, brought to you courtesy of John Mozeliak. Any questions? And make no mistake, I’m not even close to being confused for a Matheny fan. The train has left the station, in terms of both of these men and their Cardinal careers.

    But will the billionaire DeWitt who got that rich off the backs of leagues of dummies in Cardinal nation, will he do a thing about this?

    Don’t go to baseball games, don’t give DeWitt any more of your money. This is gonna take time folks for DeWitt to feel that impact. He’s already got 3.4 mil tickets sold for this season, that money is already tucked nicely into his pocket. It’s gonna be a loooong time before he quits laughing all the way to the bank.

    But next yr when you get your opportunity, quit being a fool for these people. If you don’t and continue to spend as you always have, then you’re contributing nearly as much to the problem as dummy Mozeliak & Matheny are. Smarten up, you alternative is getting more of the same of this current miserable situation.

    • maryville

      And what gives you the insight as to the Cards just being a means of making more money for DeWitt?

      • JDinSTL

        The prices at Ballpark Pillage

      • What gives you the insight that they’re not, Mary, Mary, quite contrary?

        • maryville

          Why speak disparagingly about someone when you are only hypothesizing?

          • #1 profits in baseball while carry the 14th highest payroll in baseball, is not “hypothesizing”, professor. In recent yrs as in about the last 6, this franchise has dipped no longer than 3rd in attendance. But most of those yrs, they were first or second. I believe this fan base has more than done their part, to rightfully expect more than a payroll commensurate with the Kansas City Royals. I’m just wondering exactly where in your brain have you “hypothesized”, that we’re not entitled to a club more reflective of the financial realities DeWitt enjoys.

            Am I also hypothesizing when I say the Cardinals have as much payroll tied up the follow 6 players, as the first place Milwaukee Brewers have tied up in their entire payroll? Try for just a moment to consider the enormity of that. It’s funny because I don’t think sheep like you ever actually take the necessary time to fully analyze things.

            For the record, those 6 players are Brett Cecil, Jonathan Broxton, Jhonny Peralta, Brayan Pena, Adam Wainwright, & Dexter Fowler.

            Try to smarten up, for your own good.

          • maryville

            The solution is: Save up your money and buy the team from Mr. DeWitt. If there is one individual not worth bad mouthing, it’s the owner who is the one individual that can’t be fired.

          • Save up your money, and educate yourself.

  • jrod2go

    Moved back to StL after being gone for 10 years and was so excited to have my Birds back, even went in on season tix. I’m ready to move again; maybe try again in 10 years.

  • Scott Warren

    Again, let’s be honest about this. It was a terrible move to hire him to begin with and he has been overwhelmed since Day 1. The Master of Disaster is probably the worst strategic manager in the game today so to say he is overwhelmed isn’t breaking any new ground. The line-ups, the preferential treatment for veteran players, the lack of support for younger players, the bullpen management, the fact that he pays attention to individual stats and tries to pad those stats instead of worrying about winning games (yes he has admitted to this), the lack of accountability on players/coaches for poor play/decisions, etc. We could go on all day. Now, if you want to talk about the team assembled that has been awful as well and is completely on the GM/owner but the manager has thrown gas on the fire with his overall incompetency.

  • geoff

    The season isn’t going so well for the Cardinals. Does anyone else look at Piscotty and see Ryan Ludwick without speed or base running instincts? Anyone paying attention saw that the bullpen was going to be something of a problem as it was shaping up this past spring. Mo must not realize that this new 10 day DL can be used like a pipeline to freshen up the roster almost weekly.

    • George Belt

      Never thought of him as like Ludwick. My thought on his play this season is that his mind may be on more important things than baseball… his mother’s health. Perhaps not as focused as he could be and will likely be in the future

      • geoff

        I’m not saying this about Piscotty as anything but a compliment. Except for the base running and speed, which isn’t far off. Same type of hitter, same type of fielder. Remember we saw Ludwick a bit farther along in his career than Pis is now but, I would bet that when it’s all over, those two should end up with very similar accomplishments.
        George, just as an aside…Mizzou basketball looks loaded. If Martin can coach this team, easily the most talented group he has ever had, this should be a fun season to watch. I know he got something of a windfall with the really good kid but, when Alden pushed Norm aside, I was hoping that Martin would get his shot. Of, course I hoped the same after each subsequent coach left.

        • George Belt

          I agree on Martin… his personality is electric. I would guess he has every MIzzou fan excited. It may be better they didn’t get him earlier as he has likely learned and improved. Looks like will have something to really look forward to after this, so far, weak baseball season.

  • George Belt

    As I have said before… MM appears to me to be a hunch manager. One day it is this way… another day it is a different way. He is as inconsistent in the dugout as the team is on the field. He was thought to be a solid leader, and with his player performance, one would have thought he would be solid strategically. He doesn’t appear to be demanding enough. Strong, demanding leadership works in life and in sports.

    • Mark Lee Arbogast

      Well said

  • JDinSTL

    Are you ever going to mention the Cardinals having the best comeback lineup in MLB last year and firing Derrick May at the end of the season? Moe and Matheny surround themselves with “yes men”. The results are inevitable.

  • Mark Lee Arbogast

    I believe that one reason the BP is so bad is they are overused. Nobody on this so called great starting pitching staff can go more than 5 or 6 innings. That three or four innings every game that has to be covered by the bull pen. That whole “Quality Start” stat has made pitchers think they should get a Dairy Queen trip if they give up 4 runs in 6 2/3 innings.