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Relax, Mike Matheny. If the Cards Pile Up the Runs, John Mabry Has No Worries.

The Cardinals thumped the San Francisco Giants 11-2 Thursday in the opener of a four-game series at AT&T Park. Over the last few days we’ve seen the team’s maligned offense erupt with a show of force that’s rarely been displayed in 2018.

In going 3-1 against Arizona and San Francisco in their last four games, the Cardinals have averaged 6.8 runs, hitting shots for 11 doubles and 7 homers. Collectively their hitters have batted .322 with a .370 onbase percentage and .537 slug for a .907 OPS.

The fellows have a  lower strikeout rate (20%) over the last four games. And with runners in scoring position — a large problem this season — the Cardinals have 16 hits in 43 at-bats with RISP over their last four contests, a batting average of .372. And with a .581 slug to go with it.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was understandably delighted after enjoying a show that dropped 11 runs and 18 hits on Giants’ pitchers. The festival included three doubles and homers by Matt Carpenter, Jedd Gyorko and Harrison Bader. And the Cards went 6 for 16 with RISP.

“A game like this, where you have contributions from every guy in the lineup with some damage, you need to see those sort of things to know what the expectation should be,” Matheny told reporters during his post-game interview session “We can’t throw that up there every night, but to know we have that in the tank, I think that has a lasting effect for our team.”

Here’s a question: was anyone zinging Cardinals’ hitting coach John Mabry while watching Thursday’s batting practice session that inflated the Giants’ team ERA?

Of course not. When this offense is prolific, or above-average, or consistently solid — Mabry has nothing to worry about. And Matheny has no reason to fret over his friend’s job security.

That’s the lesson here.

Score runs in bunches, get these hitters going, and produce the kind of offense this team is capable of. I don’t think the Cardinals have great position-player talent, but in terms of offense, these guys are better than they’ve showed through their performance.

Fans and media look at Mabry when the offense struggles over a long period of time, especially if we’re seeing bad habits that haven’t been corrected. And a flawed approach that hasn’t been adjusted.

This isn’t amateur baseball. This isn’t Westminster Christian Academy.

Major League Baseball. Big Boy Baseball.

The money is great, the lifestyle is sweet, the benefits are special and the pensions provide a lifetime of financial security — if a coach or manager can last long enough to qualify for the best plan.

And that means getting results.

Get the good results, everything is fine.

Establish a pattern of consistent success, and negativity won’t surface.

Demonstrate a reliable ability to correct a hitter’s problems … and you’ll have no problems.

Fail to get the good results, then people on the outside will raise hell.

This is hardly a new development.

It’s the big leagues. That’s the deal.

And grown men shouldn’t whine when they’re held accountable.

Earlier this week, in an interview with esteemed USA Today baseball columnist Bob Nightengale, Manager Matheny squawked about the criticism being directed at his BFF Mabes.

“I see the attacks going on, and the stuff they say about John bothers me way more than anything they’re saying about me,’’ Matheny told USA Today. “John is such a good hitting coach, and puts in so many hours watching video or in the cage, I’ll try to cut him back. Nobody wants to give him any credit when things are going well, or when are young guys stepping up. It’s frustrating when he gets attacked.”

Thoughts:

1. Good grief. What happened to this quote? “If the heat comes, it comes. Whether people believe it’s justified or not, is irrelevant.”  That’s what Matheny told Nightengale earlier in the story: That he knows there is pressure to win, and the heat is on, and it doesn’t matter what people say, or if it’s unfair. Just go win games. I loved that message from Matheny. But then he went ahead and immediately contradicted himself by whining on Mabry’s behalf. In the space of a few paragraphs, Matheny entirely reversed his opinion and perspective on handling criticism, and began mewling because a professional coach is being scrutinized for a below-average performance of a professional group of hitters working in an industry that went over $10 billion in revenue in 2017.

2. I do understand why Matheny is sensitive to the Mabry stuff and wants to defend his buddy. The Cardinals fired a pitching coach, Derek Lilliquist, who had more success with the team’s pitchers than Mabry is having with the Cardinals’ hitters. It’s not even close. But  Lilliquist and three other Cardinals coaches got fired, and Mabry was spared, even though the Cardinals offense is one of the most inconsistent and disappointing areas of the team. Since 2014 the Cardinals have finished 9th, 11th, 3rd and 7th in runs in the National League. And this season they’re 10th with an average of 4.31 runs per game. In OPS, the Cardinals since 2014 have been 8th,  8th,  3rd,  8th and now (this season) 10th in the NL.  During Lilliquist’s six seasons as the Cards’ pitching coach (2012-17) the team ranked third in MLB for overall ERA, were third overall in starting-pitching ERA, and second in the majors for most quality starts. So with president of baseball operations John Mozeliak sacking coaches left and right, Mabry has enjoyed remarkable job security. Why is that? It wouldn’t be because the manager is protecting him, right?

3. Whenever a manager or coach or general manager opens an adamant defense of an embattled colleague and with a tribute to how hard the person works … I’m out. You lose me. Coaches are supposed to work hard. They are obligated to work hard. It is a minimum job requirement. You don’t get credit for working hard; there are 30 teams in MLB and every coach out there is working hard and putting in long hours. It’s their duty. It isn’t optional. Especially when the coach’s area of supervision is struggling to perform at even a league-average level.

4. Mabry isn’t being “attacked” because fans and media are dissatisfied with the team’s offensive production and inconsistency and communicate their displeasure.  And when so many things are going wrong with the Cardinals offense, why would anyone ignore the role of the batting coach in this? Yeah, players carry responsibility here … obviously. But if it’s all on the players — everything — then why have coaches? And if everything is on the players to raise the level of performance, then why did Mozeliak fire four other coaches? Look, coaches matter or they don’t. Coaches make a difference or they don’t. Coaches can help pull players out of a slump, or not. But if they have no ability to get a player going and have no responsibility in shaping a player’s approach and mechanics to enhance results … then why is the coach being paid?

4a. And here are the facts: going into the series at San Francisco the Cardinals ranked 10th in the 15-team NL in runs per game. They were 9th in batting average (.243), ninth in slugging percentage (.398), 10th in onbase percentage (.314), and 10th in OPS (.712.) The Cardinals were six percent below the league average offensively in park adjusted runs created (wRC+). They had the sixth-worst walk-strikeout ratio. They swing at fewer pitches than any team in the league (44.2%) but rank 9th with a walk rate of 8.4%.  Only one NL team and one AL team swing at a lower percent of strikes than the Cardinals (64.6%). They have the fewest doubles in baseball, the fewest triples in baseball, and are 13th in the NL in extra-base hits. Of the Cardinals’ 697 hits so far this season, 81.3% have been singles or homers. The Cardinals stink at situational hitting, ranking last in the NL with a .681 OPS average with runners in scoring position. They’re 10th with a .663 OPS in “Close and Late” situations. Their two-strike batting average (.167) ranks 12th. Their two-strike OPS (.489) ranks 14th.

4a. More facts: Here’s where the 2018 Cardinals rank among the Cards’ offenses over the last 30 years including ’18 … we’re talking about 1989 through 2018.  Right now the 2018 Cardinals are 24th out of 30 in OPS; 21st  in slugging; last in OBP, last in batting average, 22nd out of 30 in runs per game; last in batting average with runners in scoring position; 28th in OPS with runners in scoring position; and 29th of 30 in two-strike batting average.

Gee, why would anyone question a gosh-darned thing about this 2018 STL offense or its approach to hitting? There I go again, attacking with facts. Evil.

5. Matheny is not being truthful when he says “nobody wants to give (Mabry) any credit when things are going well, or when our young guys (are) stepping up.” I can’t speak about anyone else, but recently I’ve praised Mabry for his work in getting Matt Carpenter’s swing fixed  for a substantial reduction in swing-and-miss and strikeout rates. Harrison Bader appears to be a more polished and capable hitter in his second MLB season, and I’ve complimented Mabry for his role in that. But what about all of the Cardinals’ regulars who are performing below career norms?

5a. There are more hitters underachieving than overachieving … so based on Matheny’s fairness scale, we’re only supposed to attach Mabry’s name to the success stories — but we should never cite Mabry when discussing hitters that are flopping, slumping or failing. If we do that — question the approach, wondering if the coach has the right message — then it’s an attack. In Matheny World, we are allowed only to give Mabry credit for the good stuff, but we are prohibited from mentioning his name when reviewing poor offensive numbers or slumping hitters that have gone off the rails.

Got it.

Let me say this: The Mabry-coached offense is rolling this week. So keep it up. It’s fun to watch. I like offense. I like action. Give us the runs. Give us the doubles, the homers, the timely hits.

And if it keeps rolling, then I’ll continue to calling it the Mabry-led offense.

But if the offense shuts down again, then Mabry’s name will be included.

Yep. Life in the Big Leagues. Big Boy Baseball. The Show.

The Big Money. The Life.

And pressure and accountability come with it.

Taking responsibility for disappointing results is part of the job.

Understanding that if there’s failure, criticism will follow.

And remembering the classic Tom Hanks line from the 1992 film, “A League of Their Own.”

There’s no crying in baseball. 

Thanks for reading…

–Bernie

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