When he was given a championship contender, Mike Matheny took the reins and rode the St. Louis Cardinals to back-to-back playoff runs. Despite having deep playoff experience in his first two seasons, Matheny has shown a lack of in-game strategy in his third season as a manager. All of the mistakes he has made this season came into play in last night’s loss to the San Francisco Giants.
It all started in the bottom of the seventh inning. Peter Bourjos led off the inning with a base hit, bringing up the pitcher’s spot. Jaime Garcia had thrown 84 pitches with a lefty set to lead off the top of the eighth. Earlier in the game, Garcia laid down a perfect bunt allowing Bourjos to go from first to third. In this situation, however, Matheny decided to use Mark Ellis to pinch hit. In his at bat Ellis laid down a successful bunt.
So why burn a pinch hitter just to bunt? I have no idea.
Later in the inning, rookie second baseman Kolten Wong came to the plate with two outs and Bourjos on third and a lefty on the mound. Wong has four hits in just 20 at-bats against lefties this season, but the Cardinals do have a bench player who hits .273 in his career against lefties on their bench. Unfortunately, he was just used to bunt earlier in the inning. Shane Robinson was a right handed bat available off the bench, but Matheny opted for Wong.
So why not pinch hit with a righty, and have an option to double switch with Ellis? I have no idea.
Wong popped out to the shortstop, and the Cardinals headed to the eighth with a one run lead.
Throughout the first 54 games of the season, Matheny has used his bullpen at a first grade level. He used his closer Trevor Rosenthal on four straight days resulting in a blown save and a blown chance for a sweep of the Atlanta Braves. He has tried to over-simplify his bullpen rotation by putting the same players into the same situations every time. Late inning relievers Kevin Siegrist and Carlos Martinez have combined for 48 innings with a 4. 31 ERA, very average numbers for rookie relievers.
The problem with these two guys is that 46 2/3 of those innings have come in the seventh inning or later. All of their struggles have been in what Baseball Reference defines as late and close situations (seventh inning or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck). Nineteen of their 23 earned runs this season have come in these late and close situations. Now, Siegrist is on the DL, but Martinez was in on Thursday.
In this game Matheny went with Martinez to start the eighth against a lefty, Gregor Blanco, and then the pitcher’s spot. Martinez has allowed a .423 OBP to left handed hitters this season, while Garcia, who was pinch-hit for, has allowed .322 OBP but had allowed Blanco to reach base twice in the first six innings. So Matheny didn’t have a very good option from those two, but that is the kind of situation that Randy Choate was signed for. Choate has faced 888 lefties in his career, allowing a .276 OBP and .276 slugging percentage to lefties over his 14 years.
So why not go with Choate? I have no idea.
Martinez allowed a base hit to Blanco. After getting a left-handed pinch-hitter to pop out on the infield, Blanco then stole second with Angel Pagan at the plate. Pagan singled to center and Martinez made a mess of the throw home, blocking Yadier Molina‘s line of sight, and allowing Blanco to score after being held up at third. Hunter Pence grounded out to the pitcher, advancing Pagan to third.
After retiring Pence, Pablo Sandoval stepped in. Sandoval homered earlier in the game, recording an RBI for the ninth straight game, so the Cardinals were reasonably concerned. As a result, Matheny call for the intentional walk. Maybe he didn’t look a at the scorecard, maybe he didn’t look in the on-deck circle or maybe he just didn’t know, but Mike Matheny was walking Sandoval to get to one of the biggest Cardinal killers in the sport.
Mike Morse homered earlier in the game, but also features a .368 batting average in 68 career at-bats against the Cardinals. of his 25 career hits against the Red Birds, 13 of them are for extra bases including 5 home runs.
So why would he intentionally walk someone to get to Morse? I have no idea.
In an attempt to keep the game tied, Matheny went to his bullpen to get Rosenthal. In his seven non-save appearances, Rosenthal has allowed five runs in eight and one third innings. Pat Neshek was signed by the Cardinals to be a right-handed specialist. His side-winding style from the right side makes him difficult to hit for righties.
Having a pitcher who allows a .177 batting average against righties in your bullpen while sending out your closer in a non-save situation makes no sense, so why do it? I have no idea.
Morse took a Rosenthal fastball into the right-center-field gap to plate two runs.
The final mistake of the game for Matheny was made when putting in Trevor Rosenthal. Matheny made a double-switch. He replaced Kolten Wong, one of the best fielders and hottest hitters on the team, with Daniel Descalso, moved the pitcher’s spot to second and burned another bench player.
As the game went on, the Cardinals ended up rallying in the bottom of the ninth with a chance to make all of these mistakes moot. With two outs, runners on first and third and the Cardinals down by one run they had a chance to tie the game. And due up is the number-two hitter, pitcher Trevor Rosenthal.
So why double switch your pitcher into the middle of your line-up? I have no idea.
So Matheny was left with one pinch-hitter left. Shane Robinson was 0-for-5 in his last start, and was hitting .156 for the season.
At this point, Mathney must have been kicking himself for his previous moves, or maybe not. The Cardinals ended up with a chance to win the game in the ninth inning against the best team in baseball, and he has decided not to learn from his mistakes all season long.
Robinson popped up on the infield and ended the game.
So why not change your bullpen strategy? I have no idea.
Why not stop double switching the pitchers spot to potential RBI areas? I have no idea.
And why isn’t anyone holding him accountable when he makes obvious strategic mistakes? I have no idea.