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.

Red Sox look to punch their ticket to the World Series tonight

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Thanks to some amazing defense, some big hits and — to continue to beat this horse, a bad call by Joe West — the Red Sox have a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and look to clinch the AL Pennant tonight down in Houston.

If you believe in momentum, you’d have to say it’s on Boston’s side. If you believe that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, however, you’d have to say things favor Houston more than the standing of the series would suggest. All of which makes me wish Game 5 was starting right now, because it figures to be a tense and exciting affair.

ALCS Game 5

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: David Price vs. Justin Verlander
Breakdown:

If someone told you that you had to win one baseball game against the Martians to save the human race, you could do far worse than calling on Justin Verlander to be your starting pitcher. Among the pitchers still in the postseason, he’d almost certainly be your choice right now.

Does Verlander himself appreciate the situation? This is what he said about that yesterday:

“I mean, these are all must-win games at this point. Every time you take the mound I don’t think there’s any difference whether it’s 2-2 or 3-1.”

Look, we’re asking him to beat the Martians here, not win the National Math Bee, so let’s let that go. The point is that after all of these years he’s still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and after the exhausting, see-saw battle of Game 4, he stands the best chance of giving Houston what it needs: a quick, quiet and drama-free win.

Not that the Red Sox are likely to roll over for that. They didn’t the first time they faced Verlander in this series. They Astros won, yes, and Verlander limited them to two runs on two hits. But he also issued four walks and wasn’t his sharpest overall. Boston didn’t capitalize on his mistakes as best they could, but he’s not invincible.

For Boston it’s David Price. He allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over four and two-thirds innings in Game 2, not factoring in the decision. That’s not great, but given the talk leading up to that game being all about how Price is a postseason flop, the fact that the Sox won it in the end had to bouy him at least a little. As does the fact that, here, tonight, it’s not 100% on his shoulders. Sure, the Sox want to close this out, but with a 3-1 lead there is less pressure on Price than on his former teammate Verlander. Worth noting, though: Price is on short rest and warmed up in the bullpen last night in case he was needed to bail out Craig Kimbrel. He may not go deep into this game.