Year 1: 2012
Regular Season Record: 88-74
NL Central Finish: 2nd (clinched 2nd Wild Card Spot)
Playoff Results: Won National League Wild Card game, Won NLDS against Washington in 5 games, Lost NLCS against San Francisco in 7 games
The 2012 season was an admirable one for first-year manager Mike Matheny and his Cardinal squad. Fresh off of losing future Hall-of-Famers Albert Pujols to free agency and Tony LaRussa to retirement, the Cardinals really didn’t miss a beat in 2012.
Despite winning just 88 regular season games and finishing second in the NL Central to the Reds, Matheny’s club still sported a 44-31 record against division opponents.
In the first year of the two team wild card format, Matheny took his team to Atlanta and was victorious in a 6-3 effort as an underdog to the hometown Braves. The memorable moment from that game was the sacrifice fly call on Andrelton Simmons’ shallow fly to left that seemed to be anything but routine.
Regardless, the Cardinals advanced to take on the NL East champion Washington Nationals in the franchise’s first playoff series since 1981. The Nationals were considered favorites to represent the National League in the World Series.
That Cardinals’ squad went on to show the same resiliency instilled in the organization by the La Russa regime, winning in five games after a four-run top of the 9th when they were down two and facing elimination in Game 5.
In the NLCS, the Cardinals went up three games to one against the Giants before losing the final three games, being outscored 20-1 in the process. The Giants’ Game 7 win was their first in a playoff series since 1912.
How Matheny handled his pitching staff after Kyle Lohse was knocked around early in that Game 7 was the start of a trend of questionable choices by Matheny in playoff situations.
With runners on second and third to lead off the bottom of the third and already trailing 2-0, Matheny turned to Joe Kelly right away despite having three lefties due up over the next four batters. Had Matheny used left-hander Mark Rzepczynski right there, maybe he gets out of the inning unflawed or giving up just a run.
As it happened, the Giants scored five times in the frame, and at 7-0, the game was virtually over. The Cardinals didn’t score a single run that game, so Matheny may not have been able to change the outcome of that game anyways. However, overcoming a two or three run deficit is drastically different than seven runs.
Matheny Regular Season Grade: B+
Matheny Postseason Grade: B-
Next: Year 2 - 2013