St. Louis Cardinals: Breaking down the Matheny years

3 of 6
Sep 30, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny (26) tips his cap to the crowd after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates to clinch the National League Central Division Championship at PNC Park. The Cardinals won 11-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Year 2: 2013

Regular Season Record: 97-65

NL Central Finish: 1st

Playoff Results: Won NLDS against Pittsburgh in 5 games, Won NLCS against Los Angeles in 6 games, Lost World Series against Boston in 6 games.

2013 began with the Cardinals saying goodbye to the likes of Chris Carpenter, Jason Motte, Rafael Furcal and Jaime Garcia to season-ending injuries. To compensate, Matheny turned to rookies like Shelby Miller and Matt Adams to carry some of the load.

Adam Wainwright was sensational all year, turning in a 19-9 record with a 2.94 ERA over a career high 241 2/3 innings pitched. Allen Craig was historically great, turning in the .454 batting average with runners in scoring position. That was the third-highest mark in that category ever.

Matt Carpenter made his first all-star game appearance in 2013, when he in 199 hits (55 of them doubles) and scored 126 runs. The 2013 Cardinals set franchise records in fielding percentage (.988), strikeouts (1254), and strikeouts per nine innings (7.73).

After winning their first NL Central division title by three games over Pittsburgh, the Cardinals went on to face the Wild Card winning Pirates in the NLDS. Ultimately, it was Wainwright outlasting Pirates rookie Gerrit Cole in game 5 by a score of 6-1 in front of 47,000 Busch Stadium fans.

In the NLCS, St. Louis faced the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw for round one of fun. The Cardinals took the series 4-2, winning their 19th pennant in franchise history and clinching Matheny’s first World Series berth.

In the World Series, the Matheny questions came early and often. In game one, facing a 5-0 deficit, Matheny elected to bring in Randy Choate to lead off the seventh and face his one batter as opposed to leaving John Axford in to at least start the inning.

After Choate threw to his one batter, Matheny brought in Seth Maness who should have gotten through the inning except for a David Freese error that prolonged the inning for the scorching-hot David Ortiz.

Matheny countered with rookie Kevin Siegrist, who was greeted with a towering blast into the Boston bullpen on his first pitch fastball. Had Matheny not used Choate to start the frame, he could have been used against Ortiz, and Siegrist could have been spared the confidence-shaker that was the Big Papi bomb.

After going 1-2-3 in the top of the 8th and facing a 7-0 deficit, the game was as good as over. The seemingly no-brainer choice would have been to bring in former closer Edward Mujica to finish out the game and move on to game two. Instead, Matheny went with his other rookie out of his pen, Carlos Martinez.

Martinez showed nerves, giving up a leadoff double and uncorking a wild pitch right out of the gate. Martinez only surrendered a single run in the inning, but he did not look comfortable at all.

There is no way of knowing for sure whether or not game one struggles dealt a blow to both of the rookie Cardinal relievers’ confidence the rest of the series. I believe with certainty that it did. Neither guy showed the same dominant stuff that landed them postseason roster spots after that game one.

While there were certainly some head-scratching decisions in that World Series, the fact of the matter is that Matheny got his club there in just his second professional season as a manager.

Matheny Regular Season Grade: A-

Matheny Postseason Grade: B

Next: Year 3 - 2014