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May 11, 2012; St. Louis, MO. USA; St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny (22) looks on during a ceremony to retire the number 10 of former manager Tony La Russa before a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

Matheny Handles the First Slide

 

It was statistically a matter of time before the St. Louis Cardinals hit a slight swoon.  You can’t win them all is a common refrain.  The Redbirds had been fairly close racking up series win after series win.  Recently the Cards ran into a buzz saw.  Apparently the Atlanta Braves had a little retribution for last season in mind and the Chicago Cubs aways play like they are a day away from elimination when playing the Cardinals early in the season.
While this happens in every season it is the Manager’s job to limit the impact of the losing streak.  Tony LaRussa, Whitey, Herzog and every other Cardinal skipper has had to deal with it at some point.  Losses happen.  I feel like this was the perfect storm.  It was a recipe for disaster.  Bats went cold.  Pitching suffered from starters to the bullpen.  Injuries are piling up.
Matheny seems to have handled this with the coolness that has embodied his rookie tenure as the leader of this team.  He has made calculated decisions with the line up and pitching that show that he has what it takes to be a quality manager.

Matheny has been dealt a heckuva hand for his first season.  He follows a living legend in the dugout**.  He lost arguably the best pitching coach of all time.  There were big name departures from the team.  He has met every challenge and continued to impress me with his style and grace.  I am coming to believe that he is a natural leader.

It would have been easy for the Cardinals to muddle through this season.  They had a multitude of excuses at their finger tips.  They lost “that guy”.  They suffered a World Series hangover.  They lost Chris Carpenter for an indefinite period of time.  As the injuries keep piling up there are numerous other “excuses” the team could have claimed.
They haven’t used a single one of them. All they have done is play so well everyone wondered how good they could be if everything had stayed in place.  Can you imagine where the Birds would be if Carp was healthy (No knock on Cy Young candidate Lance Lynn), Adam Wainwright had returned to form more quickly than he has, Holliday hadn’t been in a mini slump and Lance Berkman hadn’t been dinged up?  I think all of Redbird Nation will join me in thanking the baseball gods for Yadier Molina‘s performance thus far!  It’s crazy that the Cardinals sit atop the NL Central after all of this.
While this hasn’t been the dream start for Matheny he has garnered a certain degree of admiration and respect from Cardinal Nation.  This has bought him some time for sure.  His dedication to excelling at his job can not be questioned.  He has started to imprint himself on this team.  He has accomplished some things he stated he would.  The Cards are more aggressive on the base paths.  He isn’t as controlling a TRL was in daily game situations, but he has shown flashes.  There is a focus on hitting and hitting coach Mark McGwire seems to be doing an amazing job with the youngsters and veterans alike.
While I fully believe what I just wrote above his directives of intentional walks in the Cubs series initially had me scratching my head until I figured out what he was looking at and some of his mistrust of the bullpen at the time.  His handling of the scrutiny post game was masterful as well.  This guy wants to win and if he has to manipulate some things within his control to do so, so be it.  I like that in a coach.
I think we can all relax a little.  I think Mike “has got this”.  He seems to continually plan and prep as his predecessor did.  He is meticulous.  It is a different regime, but rooted in the past.  I love this.  He hasn’t tried to fix things that aren’t broken.  If he would just get the boys on the carousel at second base to figure stuff out I would sure feel a lot more comfortable.
This is a marathon.  It is a long season. This won’t be the last dip.  There just can’t be too many of them if the Birds expect to get back to the hunt for Red October.  Matheny and the Birds are going to need some luck in the health department and to avoid all the bats going quiet at the same time.  I’m sure ready to watch where Matheny leads and how the Cards follow.
**Congrats to former Cardinal Manager Tony LaRussa for having his number retired last week.  It was a classy move by a classy organization to recognize his contributions to our team and town.  I look forward to what this brilliant mind has to offer Major League Baseball from his current position and future leadership roles.
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