When the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series last year, many in Cardinal Nation wondered if Tony LaRussa would return for an encore. As things turned out, Tony had made his decision before any post season aspirations and retired a few weeks after the World Series. Shortly afterwards, Dave Duncan, the Redbird’s pitching coach for many years took a “leave of absence” due to his wife battling brain cancer.
After a few weeks of speculation, the front office anointed former Cardinal catcher Mike Matheny as the new St. Louis Cardinal Manager. I followed the proceedings as close as I could from Atlanta GA and I was hoping Jose Oquendo got the position. But, I think Matheny was a very good choice. So,even though its not quite All Star break; with the current struggles of our Redbirds and many in Cardinal Nation openly blaming Matheny, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at Mike Matheny’s performance thus far. So, here I present to you his unofficial “report card”:
Starting Lineups: A-
I think Matheny has done a very good job of juggling his starting lineup when necessary. He will often juggle the 2,3 and 4 hitters based on the player’s performance against left or righty pitching. You can see the loyalty to his players too. Which is why Rafael Furcal is still leading off, despite his offensive struggles. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; a manager should know his players well enough to know when its prudent to move them in the lineup or stay the course. But I think sometimes, he stays with the player too long. This is why he has an A- instead of an A+.
In my opinion, he doesn’t use his bench enough when the team struggles. He will usually rest the usual starters after a tough stretch of games or a long road trip. And he had really helped players get their rhythm back by sitting them when they are obviously struggling. I suppose this trait comes from being a player at the major league level and its served him well. The reason for the B is due to him sometimes sitting players too often and too routinely. I know it’s a long season at 162 games and post season but, these players are professionals. I just wish he would stick with his usual starting nine when we have a crucial game or need to win a series.
Starting Pitching: B-
I maintain that we still have one of the best starting rotations in the majors. And despite the injuries, Matheny and his pitching coach, Derek Lilliquist have done a pretty good job of damage control. Despite having Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Kyle McClellan out, we are doing remarkably well. Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook appear to be pitching like they did in April and Adam Wainwright is starting to round into “pitching ace” form. The B-; because, I think Matheny pulls his starters too soon at times. Rather than letting them pitch out of a jam, he will pull them at the slightest sign of trouble. The Redbirds have 40 quality starts but, if we end up losing the game, what’s the point. I was very surprised that Jake Westbrook pitched a complete game but, maybe, that will become a more common thing.
Let me just say up front; I don’t think we have a very good bullpen at the present time. But, this may be due to the innings the bullpen pitched in May. In April, our starters were going deep into games, getting quality start after quality start. June is just about over and they are still getting a lot of innings. So until we get back to letting our starters go “deeper” into games, our bullpen will continue pitching tired. The C- is due to Matheny not recognizing when his relief pitcher is struggling. Or putting relievers in situations where they typically fail. Stop putting Rzepzinski in games to face right handed batters and recognize with Motte is struggling and pull him. I know he’s our closer but, he’s human and closers struggle too.
I think Matheny is still learning the strategic side of coaching, but, he’s done pretty good so far. I don’t know if his coaches give him advice or suggestions, or its his feel for the game. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. He get’s a B because I think he should hold the players publicly accountable more often. He did this last week it it produced results. I also hope he gets better at handling the bullpen. I’m a big fan of the running game and wish he would employ that more often.
I think Mike Matheny is doing a very good job in his rookie year. And the players love and respect him. The Cardinals current struggles have little to do with his lack of coaching prowess and more to do with the players under performing. They’ll get it together soon. Because besides wanting to defend their World Series Championship, they don’t want to disappoint their manager. Thanks for reading. Go Cards!