Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Panicking Mike Matheny Holds Cardinals Back


St. Louis Cardinals’ Manager Mike Matheny responded to the sluggish start to the season by demoting the starting second baseman after three weeks and effectively benching his new center fielder. Kolten Wong, who’d been an average major leaguer in his start to the season, is in Triple A. Peter Bourjos, who got off to a slow start, has been benched in favor of last year’s incumbent, Jon Jay. Even Randal Grichuk, who had a .306 on-base percentage in the Texas League in 2013, has moved ahead of Bourjos on the depth chart.

Grichuk, and second baseman Mark Ellis, keyed the Cardinals win Sunday night over the Chicago Cubs. However, this is not the way to run a ball club with as much talent as any team in the National League.

These are signs of panic. Matheny displays that he has two sets of rules–ones for those he knows, and a second set for newcomers. Of course, Matheny bases his decisions–some of them–on past performance. While Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Jhonny Peralta, and Matt Carpenter got off to slow starts he did not replace them. He effectively has doubled down on that core to keep the club afloat offensively.

Jon Jay was deemed replaceable after last season. They acquired a player who was a star at 24 in 2012 in Peter Bourjos. The Cardinals need what Bourjos can provide, in the form of all-world defense. If Bourjos were allowed to play, he would be an upgrade over Jay by improving the outfield defense and adding an element–speed–that the club lacks. The Cardinals, and their sycophants, have decided Bourjos is a failure based on 39 plate appearances.

Kolten Wong‘s slash line read .255/.327/.319 when the Cardinals sent him down. They are not gaudy statistics, but they were above average league-wide, and a good deal above average for second basemen. He stole three bases in three attempts. He struck out five times in 52 plate appearances. He was very good in the field. How did he become a problem?

Until last night, Mark Ellis had been a downgrade at the plate and in the field, hitting in the .100′s and showing some indecisiveness at second base. Randal Grichuk is a good-looking athlete, but is not a long-term option in 2014.

The fact that Grichuk got the start last night, over the left-handed hitting Jay, over Peter Bourjos, and even over the organization’s top hitting prospect, the left-handed Oscar Taveras in Memphis, is the only indicator one needs to see that results are being sought in the wrong fashion. It was the second time over the weekend that Matheny stacked the lineup against a pitcher and selected one bat that was same-sided. He played Jay against the left-hander Travis Wood, while sitting Matt Adams,  and played Grichuk against Jason Hammel.

They had a good plan and a good off-season for acquisitions. Why is Mike Matheny ditching the plan?

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Tags: Mike Matheny St Louis Cardinals

  • David Keys

    Bob, recall Mike M. had no experience, nada, running a ball club when he was hired. He has not done a bad job so far. Also, the Cardinals are not a talent-laden club. Up the middle they are below average, except for Molina who is arguably the best in the business. But Peralta, Ellis, and Jay? I am afraid these guys are old and Jay has proven he will not hit when needed-ask the Red Sox. Wong is gone in part because performed below expectations, but also because he would not listen to coaches and did not get along well with his mates, i.e. clubhouse poison. You might be right. Mike M. is worried. He has also never faced this sort of thing before and it must feel strange. Thirty-three games does not a season make, but don’t expect too much. This team is weaker than past years, barring the starting pitching, which is great. I would feel better if Beltran were in right field.

    • Paul R

      How in the heck do you know Kolten was club house poison when you are not in the clubhouse? That is absurd statement!

      • David Keys

        Okay, don’t take my word for it, but Wong is in the minors. What do you think got him there? The tremendous talent of Mark Ellis! Or maybe the competitive edge of an untested minor leaguer? (And, paul, if sources are revealed, they stop being sources.)

        • ceeza

          If you think 23 year Wong is a clubhouse pariah you need your head examined.. It was a scapegoat panic move and one that Mo immediately regretted.. It literally made no sense.. He’ll be back tomorrow and Garcia will be back in Memphis..

          • David Keys

            Nobody said “clubhouse pariah”, but since you mention it, would any team with a reputed talent, as Wong has been billed, send him down and keep Pete Kozma ahead of him? Nobody seems to be able to answer that question. [And where do you get your information that Mozsliak regrets this move? Maybe getting your head examined is a good idea.] You guys are just in love.

      • David Keys

        Well how about it? No answer as to why a perfectly healthy, 23-year old second baseman with great speed, okay glove, playing for a team with an offensive deficit gets farmed out in favor of a 37-year old with bad legs? Sounds absurd to not assume he is a pain in some way? Or maybe it’s something more sinister? You seem to be on a first-name basis with “Kolten”, maybe you can clarify this conundrum?

        • Paul R

          I agree with you there is no reason why Wong should be in the minors. Ellis is hitting for a lower average and really no future with the Cardinals. So why not play Kolten anyway? It seems like Matheny is trying to lessen the pressure on him but he needs major league experience not having that will just prolong his development. So I agree with you I just don’t think he is a cancer.

  • David Keys

    So Bob, when is Craig going to be benched? In favor of Jon Jay. This week?