With two righthanded center fielders sitting on the bench, you wouldn’t think we’d be talking about how Jon Jay did against a lefty reliever.
With the Brewers running out of players in the eighth inning and knowing how well that works when Mike Matheny manages it, you wouldn’t think we’d be talking about how the Cardinals lost a game in the standings last night and now sit 5.5 games back of a Milwaukee team that shows no signs of slowing down.
It was far from an ordinary night in St. Louis, though it started that way. Again, the Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the first and, for the longest time, it looked like they’d wind up with that as a final. Save for the unexpected power jolt from Hero Matt Holliday and followed up by a rare but welcome home run by Allen Craig, that one run could have easily been all the Cards got. As always–some things were normal–they had their chances, but they couldn’t capitalize.
Last night, though, really seemed to be a wonderful night if you are into first- and second-guessing the manager, because he provided you with so many opportunities. I was at a meeting and didn’t get to turn on the TV until right as Wacha was leaving, but reading Twitter and looking at the play-by-play, it’s a little surprising Matheny left him out there twisting in the wind. Perhaps it was because Wacha was due to bat second in the bottom of the inning–at times, I think Matheny lets that influence his decision on whether or not to leave a pitcher out there a bit more than it should–but after a walk, single and an RBI single that got the Brewers on the board, there’s a legitimate case for making the substitution.
Instead, Matheny lets him stay out there for a bunt that loads the bases and a single that brings in the second run before making the call to the bullpen. To be fair, it is Michael Wacha and, as such, you tend to prefer him over most anyone in the pen, but since Wacha was around 100 pitches anyway, perhaps this call should have made sooner. As I say, I’m mainly basing this on Twitter reactions that seemed to say Wacha was running out of gas before the manager replaced him, but I can understand somewhat why he left Wacha in.
I also don’t blame Pat Neshek too much, even though he tied up the game. He walked into a bases-loaded, one-out situation and struck out the first batter and was 1-2 on Aramis Ramirez, noted Cardinal Killer. A pitch got away from him–seemed to be a theme, as the Redbirds hit three guys last night–and tied up the game, but that happens. Neshek got the next guy and kept the damage at a minimum, even though that one pitch was going to cost a lot of people sleep due to extras. In his last eight outings, Neshek has allowed two hits and one walk while striking out nine. Last night was costly, true, but I’ve got confidence when he comes in, which is more than we can say for some folks.
In the bottom of that inning, we saw the debut of Greg Garcia, who drew a walk in his only plate appearance. Granted, the Brewers went to a lefty and they were holding him on, but both here and later with Peter Bourjos, you’d like to see them use that speed that we’ve heard so much about. Garcia’s not a super speedster, but he did steal 14 bases in Memphis last year. Having a runner at second for Matt Carpenter would have been nice, though perhaps a moot point given that Carp struck out.
So two outs, runner on, lefty on the mound….and Matheny stuck with Jon Jay. To be fair (man, I use that phrase a lot), Jay hasn’t been as weak against lefties in his career as I thought. His line over the last few years is .269/.342/.345, though he had just a .620 OPS against them last year. However, it seems egregious to let him stay up there in a platoon disadvantage when you have two right-handed centerfielders that could have come up. Would the result have been different? I don’t know, probably not, but you’d have had the odds more slightly in your favor. Then again, given Matheny’s penchant for running low on players, we probably should be giving him credit for not burning a guy.
You know, like he did with Carlos Martinez. Martinez pitches the eighth, packs a walk around three outs, and uses roughly 10 pitches. In a tie game in the eighth, it would make sense to leave him out there, right? I mean, he’s a former starter, he’s worked two innings many times, and the better to save a player, right? Instead, after Martinez’s inning of work, he double-switches in Trevor Rosenthal, removing Matt Adams–you know, probably the one guy you want in a game when one swing could win it.
Martinez had pitched yesterday and was working his third day out of four, so perhaps that played into it. Still, why the double switch? Rosenthal would have been due up fourth in the inning, so if he gets up you have someone on, perhaps a good pinch-hitting opportunity. Or, if you have to double-switch, why not take out Jay, who would have been sixth up, instead of Adams? I don’t think there’s a rule that a double-switch HAS to be the last bopper that batted, right? You swap out Jay, swap in Randal Grichuk in the ninth spot (which, since Grichuk came in as a defensive replacement, is where he was anyway) and worry about Rosenthal’s spot if it comes up.
Some may fault Matheny for Bourjos’s bunt debacle in the 10th, but that really made sense there. The downside of bunting runners over is that you are playing for one run, but as George Will said in Men At Work, “Perhaps. But you get that one.” Having Holliday at third with Yadier Molina coming up would have been a great opportunity to get the winning run home. I don’t want to see that move in the first or fourth or sixth, but in extras, it makes sense.
What didn’t make sense to me, as I mentioned before, was not stealing Bourjos after the bunt blew up and the team went from runner on second and nobody out to runner on first and one out. We’ve been told time and again that this team has speed, but we didn’t see Matheny trust it there, with Bourjos only going on a full count to Molina, who flew out forcing Bourjos back to first.
There was a lot of different points where Matheny’s choices were, let’s say questionable. Obviously he’s got more information and he knows what he’s doing, but it’s somewhat frustrating to see these opportunities pass by because of his decisions. That said, it may have just been one of those nights. Perhaps that’s what happens when I spend it on Twitter.
By rule, I can’t give the Goat to Matheny, though it’s tempting, so we’ll go with Jon Jay, going 0-6 and grounding out on the first pitch with the bases loaded in the ninth. I would surely hope that, given Matheny’s lip service to using the hot hand, we won’t see him in the lineup tonight.
Old friend Kyle Lohse takes the hill tonight for the Brewers, who are looking to go 10 games over .500 on the road. While Lohse knows Busch Stadium well, he’s not always had the best of success against his old pals.
His old catcher seems to have figured him out. Jay actually has done well against him in the past as well, something I bet Matheny points to as he announces him in the lineup.
With Molina’s success, it might make it more difficult for Tony Cruz, the Lynn Whisperer, to get into the game. (Perhaps Molina at first tonight? Wouldn’t rule it out.) Lance Lynn has definitely shown signs of improvement with Cruz, though he does tend to do well in April anyway.
Lynn threw seven shutout innings at the Brewers two weeks ago and has had a lot of success with them in the past. Even more helpful for him, Jean Segura should be unavailable.
Cards need a win tonight. You never want to get terribly far back in April, but that’s what they are risking!