Cardinals manager Mike Matheny not doing his team any favors

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It started with the lineup: Mike Matheny chose to go with Shane Robinson in center field in Game 5 and had him bat second, with Carlos Beltran dropping into the cleanup spot.

On the surface, it didn’t seem like a great move. Maybe it would have turned out better had leadoff man Matt Carpenter gotten on once or twice, giving Robinson a chance to play some small ball. That never materialized.

Really, though, the moment the move no longer made any sense at all was when the hobbled Allen Craig became a late addition to the lineup. But rather than juggle things, Matheny simply had Craig bat sixth, rather than his usual cleanup spot. Perhaps even better than batting Beltran second and Craig fourth: batting Craig second. With Craig severely limited defensively by his bad foot. hitting him at the top of the order might have earned him an extra at-bat before he needed to be removed for defense. But, no, it was Robinson. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

What else? Well, leaving Adam Wainwright in to finish the seventh was the move that really doomed the Cardinals. With Wainwright approaching 100 pitches and an off day tomorrow, there was no reason not to have someone warmed up and ready. That Wainwright issued his first walk of the game to an ice cold Stephen Drew with one on and one out in the seventh suggested he was about done. David Ross followed with an RBI double, giving the Red Sox the lead. Boston later made it 3-1 on a Jacoby Ellsbury bloop single.

I’m not going to blame Matheny for letting Wainwright face Ross; even if Martinez was a better choice in that spot, a move to pull the ace then would have been a true surprise. But leaving him in to face Ellsbury was a bad call. The easy assumption is that it happened only because Wainwright had made Ellsbury look pretty bad his first three times up. Of course, it’s not like Ellsbury ripped a ball into the gap that fourth time, either. Still, it was an assignment that should have gone to one of the Cardinals’ left-handed relievers. Kevin Siegrist was ready and could have taken over.

The other big choice Matheny had to make was whether how to handle the eighth after David Freese’s one-out double off Jon Lester. At that point, the Cardinals seemed to have a much better chance of scoring than they would in the ninth against Koji Uehara. However, the only right-handed hitter on the Cardinals’ bench was backup catcher Tony Cruz, and his last at-bat came in the regular season. Matheny chose to let Kozma hit. Predictably, he was an easy out. Really, any of the lefties would have been better bets. Matheny then chose to have Matt Adams bat lefty-lefty out of the pitcher’s spot, only to watch the Red Sox give up that advantage and go with Uehara. It didn’t matter; Uehara made quick work of the one power threat on the Cardinals bench.

At that point, the Cardinals had the top of the order set to go in the ninth. Unfortunately, that top of the order was Carpenter-Robinson-Matt Holliday. Jon Jay hit for Robinson, who went 0-for-3, and grounded out. For the second game in a row, Beltran could only watch as the Cardinals lost by two runs.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.