St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny has been a hot topic of late, but is he as bad as fans make it seem? Hang with me Matheny haters.
My views on Mike Matheny are a lot softer than most people without a doubt. It’s clear St. Louis Cardinals fans have been strongly on the side of firing him. Our senior editor for Redbird Rants, Dr. Miles, has made that apparent on this fan site as well. I can understand that feeling, but I also recognize the success that he has had in his stint over the years, including the second half of this season.
Collectively as fans, postseason success has normalized us, so anything less is unacceptable. How many experts considered the St. Louis Cardinals competing for second place, practically giving the Chicago Cubs a secure lock on winning the division?
I mean, honestly, did anyone expect us to be close to the Chicago Cubs at this point in the season? We needed to lower our expectation as a team that competes rather than being the team to beat.
I know many would argue it has nothing to do with how the St. Louis Cardinals have played as the reason we are even near the Cubs. Is that accurate though, or has the “Cardinals Way” proved successful again?
The Cardinals have played a solid 36-27 this second half of the season, while the Cubs have played to expected dominance at 41-22.
Now let us be honest, getting back to Mike Matheny, did he not make adjustments to under-performing players throughout the season to help spark this club?
Here is a list of terrible seasons for some Cardinals playing:
#1. Stephen Piscotty: He has been non-existent in 2017. Is he even a threat at the plate chopping baseballs every time? I know, he has dealt with family issues, but he has been awful. His bat speed is slow, his outfield play has been average, and I think he probably got slower running as well.
#2. Seung-hwan Oh: He was once one of the best closers in baseball in 2016 and even got labeled the “Final Boss.” Now he is a shell of what he once was. We all know how bad the beginning of the season was, and anyone denying Mike Matheny was at fault for running him out there for the first two months of the season is lying. Everyone had been waiting for him to turn it around, but it just did not happen.
#3. Rest of Bullpen: Here is the rest of what was a horrible bullpen listing names like: Jonathon Broxton, Miguel Socolovich, Kevin Siegrist, and the infamous signing of Brett Cecil. Now the first two on this list were supposed to be just innings guys who would get those games where we just needed outs.
What about Siegrist, then, who at the height of his success was a solid set-up man the past couple seasons? Also, Cecil was supposed to be so much better than what he has been. He hasn’t even been close to what we thought he would be in 2017.
Once again, how is Matheny to know how terrible these guys would play? It is not like the front office was willing to go give him better options. Cecil signed for four years, and Matheny had to use him. Siegrist, on the other hand, had been successful. Similarly, Oh earned those outings only to see he was not what he was in the past.
Those are just a few of the under-performing players in 2017. I should note the honorable mentions of “The Always Hurt” Dexter Fowler, “The Can’t Hit Anywhere but Leadoff” Matt Carpenter, and “The Where Did the 2016 Go?” Aledmys Diaz.
Now, those are just a few players that have made Mike Matheny’s job a tough task. I am not saying it is all their fault, but we have to cut Matheny some slack with that. He got dealt a tough hand.
What I cannot defend are some of his decisions on his lineups, when he sits players, the bad defense, and bad base running.
For example, on multiple occasions he put players in weird spots in the lineup. For a better part of the season, and middle of the year, he placed Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty in the middle of the order. Also, why has Tommy Pham had random days off when it was clear earlier in the season he should have been playing every day.
I think the last two arguments for him have improved compared to where they were, but they have been below average.
We have had too many runners picked off on the bases, especially for a team who does not steal bases. More importantly though, when trying to take the extra base, we would get thrown out at bad times with wrong number of outs just to be aggressive. Part of that is poor coaching and choosing wrong times to try for those opportunities.
Even so, what a great second half we have had. On multiple occasions this season, we have been on the brink of having the wheels fall off, but somehow rebounded. Once with a Rally Cat and an eight-game win streak that made us contenders.
I give Mike Matheny credit for those rebounds throughout the season for pushing some of the right buttons. Matheny configured some lineups that did work after a lot of searching.
He also started figuring out the bullpen by the start of August, until he got dealt another bad hand with Trevor Rosenthal going down. He had a below average first half of the season, but figured it out as the season came along, ultimately claiming the closer role before forced to have Tommy John surgery.
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Clearly, just as I have bashed some players on their lack of success as the reason for the bad start to the season, the same amount of credit needs to be given to them for the success of the second half. Whether that is the resurgence of Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, and partially Randal Grichuk or the surprise stars like Tommy Pham and Paul Dejong who solidified the top of the order.
I know I went through a lot of different aspects of the season. I want to close with saying Mike Matheny has not had a losing season as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. Even as “lost” as this season has been, look at us now five games back of the Chicago Cubs with a little life left, and even more so, only 2.5 games back of the Colorado Rockies for Wild-Card.
One could say he was dealt a silver spoon of a team back in 2012. I say that is fair. However, any manager hired would have been handed that team and system. Mike Matheny has taken the silver spoon and delivered us a World Series appearance, two National League Championship Series appearances, won the division three times (2013, 2014, 2015), and had a 100-win season. Not too shabby.
No, Mike Matheny is not perfect, but not even the previous World Series Champion Manager Joe Maddon pushes all the buttons every season. He has been tabbed as one of the greatest in the game, yet the Chicago Cubs have been one of the most under-performing teams in baseball.
I ask you all to reconsider your thoughts on Mike Matheny. It is a player’s game and when players play well, managers look great. When they do not play well, managers look shabby. Matheny got handed a misfit team, even the Front Office has admitted that, and look how well the “Cardinals Way” turned the season around.
Not an easy task having players buy into success and will themselves back into the race, especially when the media calls the season over in August and makes it seem as though everything is doom and gloom in every tweet and interview. Who knows? Maybe we make it into the postseason and have a run! Even if we do not, what a turnaround of a second half, and what a promising future we have.