When I first started writing this post, I was going to do as I had said in my last blog and write a review of the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs series. I was also going to review Ballpark Village since I got to attend the game on Saturday (big thanks to my beautiful wife for buying me tickets). However, after watching the games against the Cubs, as well as the game last night against the Milwaukee Brewers, I have decided something more important needs to be discussed. I am becoming concerned with some of the moves Manager Mike Matheny has been making, especially late in the ball games. Specifically his bullpen and bench use.
First off, let’s get this quick little review out of the way. As I said earlier, this past weekend I got to attend game 2 of the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs series. This was the first game I got to see at Busch Stadium this season, so I was very excited. In my previous post, I discussed the Cardinals and Cubs rivalry and how it seems to be diminishing. Well, after attending the game in person, my feelings have changed…to an extent. I had previously said that I felt as if the Cardinals and Cubs rivalry had faded due to a lack of competitiveness from the Chicago Cubs, as well as a lack of dislike between the two teams. It has become a very friendly rivalry, while the only “fire” to the rivalry is in an historical sense. After seeing it in person, it seems as if that rivalry still has some heat. Please let me explain. Also, keep in mind I am a very biased Cardinals fan and have been trained to dislike the Cubs and anything or anyone associated with them. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the Cubs won (I don’t even know if I should call it a win) on Friday night. As a fan, I never want to see my team lose the first game of a series. Therefore, game 2 seemed like a must win in my mind. Plus, I would hate to return to work and be razzed by my Cubs loving coworkers. As I approached the stadium on Saturday morning I noticed a very large number of Cubs t-shirts and jerseys being worn around. The Cubs have a very large and loyal fan base that travels well. However, this early in the season, and with Ballpark Village opening, I expected this home game to be nearly 100% Cardinals fans. Much to my surprise, I would say there were likely 15-20% Cubs fans in attendance. They had a sense of swagger about them Saturday afternoon knowing they won in extra innings the night before. Even the Cubs team seemed to have an extra bounce in their step. Then came the first pitch of the game. Junior Lake hit a rocket to left field, and the Cubs were quickly up 1-0. I thought the beautiful day with amazing weather was going to become very ugly. Luckily the Cardinals made a comeback and won big. However, it was upsetting to me to hear the amount of cheers the Cubs received when they would (rarely) make a good play. As a Cardinals fan, it made me dislike the Cubs very much again. I felt like the enemy was on my home turf. It seemed as if the other Cardinals fans sitting near me had the same feelings.
As for Ballpark Village, I didn’t get to experience it to it’s full extent. My wife and I had plans to visit Ted Drewe’s and Imo’s pizza, and with the large crowds forming at BPV we decided we would wait to check it out until some other day. We did walk inside and make a quick loop. It is very nice, very new, very crowded. It seems like a total hit. Everyone there seemed happy, and there are plenty of TVs to watch the game on. In my opinion, it seems like a very good place to watch any road games and grab some dinner. Plus, I heard the new Cardinals Hall of Fame is incredible.
Now, on to the more important task at hand. Keep in mind I am a very big supporter of Mike Matheny. I think he has great leadership skills, and is a very good manager. However, what is he doing when it comes to bullpen and bench management? It seems as if he is afraid to use Seth Maness, Keith Butler, and Pat Neshek. He goes to Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal way too much. Take Friday night, game 1 of the Cubs series, for example. All of you by now are aware of how the Cardinals threw that game away. The Cards rallied in the 9th to tie the game, Rosenthal came in to the game in the 10th and had a very efficient 6 pitch inning. In the bottom of the 10th, the Cardinals got 2 men on base. With 2 outs, Pete Kozma was on deck to pinch hit for the pitcher, but Matheny pulled him back and decided to let Rosenthal hit for himself. No offense to Rosenthal, but he is not a hitter. He has had 1 major league at bat before Friday night and struck out. Then, on Friday night, he repeated that feat and struck out looking in his second major league at bat to end the rally. The Cardinals left the winning run on second base. Rosenthal then came out to pitch the 11th, and gave up a 3 run homer to Welington Castillo. Matheny decided that leaving Rosenthal in the game was the better option. I am assuming he made this poor decision because he does not trust Maness or Butler in key situations, and he also has no faith that Pete Kozma or Tony Cruz (who was also available on the bench) could drive in a run. It seemed as if Matheny were playing for a tie, trying to reserve his bench players and the rest of the bullpen for a potential 16-18 inning game. He was not being aggressive early in the season when you can afford to. It seems Matheny is content playing, essentially, shorthanded. He is not utilizing his entire 25-man roster.
This also makes me concerned with how those players that are not being utilized will view this situation. They may not admit it to the media, or really anyone for that matter, but you have to think deep inside they are offended by this. They realize their manager has no faith in them to do their jobs. Inevitably this has to hurt their confidence. As a reliever, coming in to a game with zero confidence makes the game that much harder. They need to believe in their stuff, and know they will get the job done. With Matheny passing over them for the usual guys (Kevin Siegrist, Randy Choate, Martinez, Rosenthal), they will likely begin to lose that confidence, and they will struggle. They have already struggled in this young season. The only way to overcome that is to throw more. They need to regain that confidence, but Matheny will not let them. Same can be said of the bench players. Granted, Tony Cruz got to start the game last night in Milwaukee to give Yadier Molina a night off. And now that Mark Ellis is healthy, Kozma has been sent to AAA Memphis.
Speaking of last night against the Milwaukee Brewers, again, Seth Maness was warming up in the bullpen as the Cardinals had a 4-0 lead. Yet, after Lynn came out of the game, Matheny chose to go with Martinez yet again. Does Matheny really have that little faith in Maness? Can Maness not hold a 4 run lead? It makes me question why Maness, Butler, and Neshek are even on the roster. Are there guys in the minors that would be better options? Should we call them up? Not only is he not using these players, he is then over-using young arms like Rosenthal and Martinez. Rosenthal’s velocity has been down as of late, is this due to overuse, or the colder weather? Could these young pitchers be at a higher risk for injury with their overuse? That thought is specifically worrisome when it comes to Martinez. He was being stretched out as a starter in spring training so he already has more innings on his arm at this point in the season than normal.
I understand that Martinez and Rosenthal, and Siegrist and Choate are very good at what they do. But this is a 162 game season. Asking those 4 to pitch an inning or two nearly every night will certainly wear them down in a hurry. Major League Baseball allows a 25 man roster for a reason. Utilize them when you can to avoid further injury. Also, use them to keep them sharp as the season progresses.
One final note, and you can disagree with me on this one. This is just my point of view. But last night, Matt Carpenter was thrown out of the game in the fifth inning for arguing a called third strike. From what I could see on TV it looked like he may have said “you’re terrible” to the umpire. To me, that seems pretty calm compared to other things I have seen told to umpires. But, nonetheless, Bob Davidson ejected him. Mike Matheny came rushing out of the dugout to argue as well in an effort to protect his player. It initially looked to me like Matheny was also trying to get thrown out of the game. For some reason Davidson decided not to toss him. In my opinion (and really, what do I know? I am just a writer for a blog) this would have been a great time for Matheny to heckle the umpire on any borderline pitch Lance Lynn threw that was not called a strike. This would get the point across to the umpire that all we want is consistent calls on pitches, and it would also illustrate his loyalty to his team, his pitcher, and Matt Carpenter. However, Matheny remained relatively quiet for the rest of the game. This just seemed like another instance where Matheny had an opportunity to make a “managerial” move, and chose not to. One more reason why I am questioning him on this very young season.