St. Louis Cardinals: Mike Matheny leads Cards to another winning season

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ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 10: Manager Mike Matheny #22 of the St. Louis Cardinals catches during warm-ups in between innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium on September 10, 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 10: Manager Mike Matheny #22 of the St. Louis Cardinals catches during warm-ups in between innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium on September 10, 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
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After last night’s win, the St. Louis Cardinals’ manager did something not even the great Tony LaRussa did.

After defeating the Chicago Cubs last night 8-7, the St. Louis Cardinals reached the 82-win mark. What’s the significance? The Cardinals have now recorded a winning season in the ten consecutive season. The last Cardinal team to have a losing record was the 2007, going 78-84 after winning the World Series the year before.

It is a remarkable run that many teams in MLB wish they could sustain, even last year’s World Series champions. However, as impressive as the St. Louis Cardinals’ run has been, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize a fact many of us probably wouldn’t believe if we saw it on paper. With the win last night, Mike Matheny accomplished something not even the great Hall of Famer Tony LaRussa accomplished.

Last night, Mike Matheny became the first St. Louis Cardinals manager to have a winning record in his first six consecutive seasons with the club. That’s six straight seasons of keeping the ship from going under the .500 mark. By the way, can you believe it’s been six years since Matheny has been at the helm of this organization?

For as much criticism as I, or my fellow writers, give Matheny, I have to admit even I am impressed with his ability to win games. Over the six years as manager, the St. Louis Cardinals have a .562 winning percentage, good for an average of about ninety-one wins a season. In those six seasons, the Cardinals have one 100 games once, coming close with ninety-seven wins in 2013.

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Matheny led the team to the playoffs in first four years as manager, reaching the NLCS in 2012, 2013, and 2014. The Cardinals made it to the World Series in 2013 before losing to the Boston Red Sox in six games. While ultimate success in the post-season still eludes Matheny, we should do well to remember not every team gets to that point. In fact, some teams have never been to that point.

Often times when we criticize Matheny, we cite LaRussa as the standard for St. Louis Cardinals’ managerial excellence. But as I said earlier, not even Tony LaRussa was able to accomplish what Matheny did. In LaRussa’s first six years, the Cardinals had a losing record twice, in 1997 and 1999.

LaRussa didn’t rip off six or more consecutive winning season until the stretch from 2000 to 2006. In those sevens seasons, the Cardinals had a winning percentage of .580. I think what makes LaRussa so great is his ability to take his teams to the post-season. In his seven-year stretch, LaRussa went to the playoffs six of the seven seasons, reaching the NLCS five times, reaching the World Series twice and winning one championship.

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Say what you want about Mike Matheny, but his ability to win isn’t too far off from LaRussa. Now I’m not saying they are the same manager by any means, though.

For the last six years, I have watched Matheny’s incredibly frustrating bullpen management at times and wondered what Tony would do.

Maybe that last thought above defines my problem with Matheny. I expect the success and winning like Tony, but I am too blind by that craving to realize Matheny has won this entire time.

It won’t stop me from criticizing his every move, but maybe I need to change my approach of wanting to see him fired.

I understand he makes some really bad mistakes, but I also need to share the blame among the players as well. Matheny can only do so much to prepare players to compete. At the end of the day, the player does have to perform for the team to have success. And while Matheny certainly has areas of improvement, such as bullpen management or lineup construction, I have to take a step back and realize he is still learning.

While one can argue how long does it take someone to learn, don’t forget LaRussa was a manager for nineteen seasons before he made it to St. Louis. Even in his time in St. Louis, the Cardinals struggled at times, and yet we still laude him as the best manager we’ve ever had. I think the St. Louis Cardinals knew there would be some growing pains, but there are far worse things, like not having a winning season AND missing the playoffs.

Does that explain why owner Bill DeWitt Jr. didn’t hire a manager with more experience like Terry Francona? No, but if we are being honest with ourselves, Matheny has done more than a serviceable job as manager. Maybe the St. Louis Cardinals shouldn’t fire Matheny.

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The St. Louis Cardinals think they have their man in Mike Matheny. Do you agree with that call? Let me know in the comments below.

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