St. Louis Cardinals: Breaking down the Matheny years

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Oct 12, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny during the fourth inning in game two of the 2014 NLCS playoff baseball game against the San Francisco Giants at Busch Stadium. Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 12, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny during the fourth inning in game two of the 2014 NLCS playoff baseball game against the San Francisco Giants at Busch Stadium. Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Year 3: 2014

Regular Season Record: 90-72

NL Central Finish: 1st

Playoff Results: Won NLDS against Los Angeles in 4 games, Lost NLCS against San Francisco in 5 games

For the second consecutive season, Matheny’s Cardinals took the NL Central crown over the Pittsburgh Pirates, this time outlasting the Buccos by two games in the final standings.

Key departures going into 2014 included the likes of Chris Carpenter (retirement), Carlos Beltran, Rafael Furcal, Jake Westbrook and Edward Mujica. Allen Craig also went into his historic tail spin after the magical 2013 he turned in, a tail spin he has yet to recover from.

Michael Wacha spent the majority of that season on the DL, and Jaime Garcia went under the knife on July 5, ending his 2014 campaign.

Youngsters Kolten Wong and Lance Lynn burst onto the scene, and 2014 was the first year we saw Jhonny Peralta at shortstop for the Cardinals. Jon Jay had a career year, and Matt Carpenter made the switch to third base seamlessly.

With all the roster turnover and the reliance on young talent, the Cardinals still took their second consecutive divisional crown, posting a 17-9 record in September to hold off the surging Pirates.

The Cardinals drew the Dodgers in the NLDS for round 2 of Dodger/Kershaw fun. Game one of that series was a defining game for Matheny and his club. They showed the resiliency and never say die attitude first instilled by Tony La Russa, only seemingly amplifying it under Matheny.

After Wainwright was roughed up over four plus innings by the Dodgers, the Cardinals faced a 6-2 deficit heading into the top of the 7th. From there the Cardinals went to work on Kershaw.

St. Louis opened the frame with four straight singles before Matt Carpenter’s three run double cleared the bases and jolted the Cardinals ahead 7-6. The game finished with a score of 10-9 in favor of St. Louis. Had the Cardinals not mounted that magical comeback, the series likely would have gone in a very different direction.

Up two games to one going into game four, the Cardinals again found themselves in a hole against Kershaw and the Dodgers in the seventh inning. Down 2-0, Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta led off the frame with back-to-back infield singles. Then Matt Adams did his thing. The rest is history.

The Cardinals went to the NLCS to again face the Giants, and again Matheny employed some questionable tactical decisions.

In game 3, Matheny brought in Randy Choate to start the 10th inning, despite having Carlos Martinez and others remaining in the bullpen. Choate walked left-handed hitting Brandon Crawford. Matheny stuck with him. Pinch hitter Juan Perez then proceeded to line a single to left field.

Two on, nobody out. Choate stays in to face another lefty in Gregor Blanco. Blanco bunts, Choate fields what is likely his first bunt in years, he sails the throw to first, ball game over.

In game 4, with Shelby Miller laboring through three innings of his start, Matheny stuck with Miller to hit in the top of the fourth, only to see him unable to finish the bottom half of the inning on the mound.

Matheny actually leads all managers in that odd category. There have been more occurrences of Matheny letting a pitcher hit, only to see him fail to finish the next inning, than any other manager in baseball.

In the elimination Game 5, Matheny turned to Michael Wacha (who hadn’t thrown in any postseason game that year) in the bottom of the 9th, despite having Rosenthal and other arms still available in the pen. Wacha clearly didn’t have it, and we all know how that game ended.

I feel like Matheny won the NLDS against LA based on magical individual performances, if not luck, more than anything. That is reflected in his postseason grade for 2014.

Matheny Regular Season Grade: B+

Matheny Postseason Grade: D

Next: Year 4 - 2015

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