“Well, ya got trouble, my friend, right here, I say, trouble right here in river city.” (Lyrics from The Music Man).
May was supposed to be the month the St. Louis Cardinals would use as a springboard to defending their National League Central title. Today, they are closer to the fourth-place Pittsburgh Pirates than they are to the Milwaukee Brewers, who are in first. They won just two games on a nine game home stand. They blew a mid-game four-run lead last night with a starting pitcher on the comeback trail being hung out to dry in a ghastly fifth inning.
Enough talk about intangibles, and the manager (to whom we’ll return). Everyday players are underperforming. Look at the trio of Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, and Matt Adams: Holliday hasn’t proven to be the threat he was just last year. He may be in decline at 34. Craig, who will turn 30 during the season, has recently been better, but is not slugging as he has in the past. Adams, hurt at the moment, has not progressed against breaking pitches or left-handed pitching.
These are pertinent, quantifiable facts relating directly to on-field results. The manager has not helped matters, however. Tuesday night’s game against the Kansas City Royals provides a few cases in point. This was Garcia’s fourth start after coming back from shoulder surgery. In the fifth inning, Garcia gave up a skein of extra-base hits, and six runs poured across the plate before Mike Matheny stirred the bullpen.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Joe Strauss said this on Twitter:
I’ll say this: If Jaime had hit turbulence in sixth inning instead of fifth he never would have been in position to allow threejack.
— Joe Strauss (@JoeStrauss) June 4, 2014
He went on to speculate that allowing Garcia to stay in for a possible personal win seemed more important to Matheny than that the team do something–like change pitchers–to prevent losing the lead in that frame. Matheny never did change pitchers during the onslaught, even after Alex Gordon capped off the demolition of the lead with the aforementioned three-run homer to make it 6-4. Garcia induced Salvador Perez to ground out to conclude the outburst.
This prompted Matheny to double-switch in Peter Bourjos for Jon Jay. This was a reversal of recent patterns, in which Bourjos would start, not hit, and then Matheny would signal his dissatisfaction by inserting Jay, the inferior fielder, late in games. It didn’t make sense. Why start Bourjos and take him out when he’s really needed?
For once, Matheny’s “conventionally” wiser move paid off quickly, as Bourjos cranked a long homer to provide a short-term lead in the sixth inning. Bourjos provided an unexpected jolt. The point is he was inserted for his defense, which is superior to that of Jay.
It doesn’t look good for the St. Louis Cardinals this season. However, there are things they can do better to optimize what they have, such as pulling pitchers quicker, and understanding their roster.