I like Mike Matheny, I really do. He seems like a good man, I appreciate his openness about his faith, he’s obviously got the respect of at least a good portion of the team and you can’t argue too much with the results of the past couple of years. While he’s still got room to grow as a manager, on most levels I’m glad he’s in St. Louis.
However, I’ve got a bald spot starting from all the times I’ve had to scratch my head this season over moves and decisions on his part. None more than what happened yesterday in relation to the lineup. While the moves weren’t unexpected (sadly), the rationale–even 12 or so hours later–still isn’t working for me.
And even that’s an overstatement. Take why Daniel Descalso was in the lineup yesterday. Matheny said that he didn’t want Descalso to go too long without a start and, since Mark Ellis had struggled against Gavin Floyd and Descalso had a couple of hits against him, yesterday looked like a good day. I even predicted a similar reasoning on Twitter in a conversation with Joe Schwarz. I get that. It’s classic Tony La Russa theory there, keeping the bench as sharp as possible. I don’t know that I’d have used the small samples there and it’d be much better if DD was coming in for Kolten Wong after Wong had a nice run of starts, but again, that’s defensible.
What had me scrambling for rationalization was this.
“We’ve got to find a way to get Jon Jay locked in. We’ve got to get him clicking.”
Oh no you didn’t.
When Peter Bourjos (and Wong also, to a lesser degree) can sit for ages on a cold streak, there’s no discussion of “getting them clicking”. Why does Jay get the extra consideration? If anything, he was expected to be the fourth outfielder. It would seem more reasonable to try to get Bourjos going than Jay. As someone on Twitter said, when did Jay become the focus of the offense?
Let’s just take a quick look at the last few weeks. Here’s from April 15 through Monday’s game:
When you shorten up that span to the more immediate last 10 days (April 25, let’s say):
Whatever measure you use, Jay’s had plenty of chances to get locked in, while Bourjos has gathered dust. So when Bourjos gets two hits and is instrumental in a win, wouldn’t it make sense to play him again, then get him a game against a lefty on Wednesday and see if the extended time doesn’t help him?
Usually I can understand what a manager or a general manager is saying. Not that I agree with it, but you can see their point of view. This, though, is fairly mindboggling and does nothing to counteract charges that Matheny is playing favorites with his lineup construction.
It’s also contradictory. When Jay started his resurgence, Matheny talked about “playing the hot hand.” Which, given the offensive struggles of the team, I could understand. We’ve seen people in the past earn jobs when they can be hot at just the right time. However, now that Jay is colder than Hoth and Bourjos had a good game, he’d seem to be the hot hand or at least the closest approximation of it this center field rotation seems to have. Yet instead of riding that, Jay gets back in there.
You wonder how this is affecting the relationship with the front office as well. John Mozeliak hand-picked Matheny at least in part because he came with no preconceptions, that he could more easily stay on the message that Mozeliak was preaching. Is that still the case? Is Mo on board with what we are seeing? I know he’s saying so publicly, but he’s unlikely to undermine his manager in the press no matter what he personally thinks. It seems strange, though, that he’d make such a major move for Bourjos and then be fine with him being shunted off to the side after just a couple of weeks.
As Bernie Miklasz has pointed out a number of times (most recently on his podcast with Derrick Goold), the general manager is in charge of the roster and the manager is in charge of the lineup. Mo’s not going to tell him who to play and who not to play, but he can take people out of the equation. (No, he’s not going to go Jack Bauer on them, though Mo as an assassin could make for good TV.) We saw it last year, when Matheny couldn’t grasp that running Mitchell Boggs out there regularly wasn’t helping the team. Mo demoted, then traded, Boggs so that Matheny could be saved from himself. You wonder if something like that will happen again this year and, if Mo has to keep doing such things, how long it is before that comes to a head.
All that and we’ve not actually talked about last night’s game. Though, to be fair, it was basically a repeat of many other games this year. Great pitching, no offense, one mistake and there’s a loss. Wasn’t fond of it the first 20 times I saw it, honestly.
Anytime it’s close, there’s no doubt my personal bias is going to lean toward giving Tyler Lyons the Hero tag. Last night, though, there wasn’t much competition for the Patron Pitcher of the Blog. Lyons gave up a home run to Justin Upton (no shame there) and that was it, allowing only three other hits and striking out seven over six innings. If his spot in the lineup hadn’t rolled around in the seventh after Desclaso got a two-out hit, he’d probably gone another frame since he threw less than 90 pitches. Even if Joe Kelly was ready to return–and that doesn’t seem to be the case–Lyons would have earned another start, assuming you can earn such a thing with good performances under the current management.
The Goat last night goes to Allen Craig, who had another 0-4 with two strikeouts. Granted, one of those was against Craig Kimbrel, who strikes everyone out, but the point holds. We continue to say, “Oh, just wait until Craig gets going!” but you have to start to wonder if it actually WILL get going. We’re basically five weeks into the season–roughly 20%–and Craig’s average, instead of increasing, is sliding down from the high water mark of .220. Right now on his MLB card, he’s projected for .267 with 18 home runs. If you assume 550 AB, he’d have to hit .330 the rest of the way to get to .300. Again, batting average isn’t everything, but it’s a quick and dirty measure of what the mountain is ahead of him. If Craig’s only going to be hitting .267, that lack of power becomes amplified.
A little bit of questionable umpiring last night didn’t help Pat Neshek, who came into a tough situation and couldn’t quite extricate himself when he didn’t get the strikeout call on Chris Johnson. When it’s a tight game in the late innings, everything gets magnified and, unfortunately, Neshek couldn’t get the job done after doing so well Monday night. Neshek’s pitched in three of the last four games, so we probably won’t see him tonight. There were a lot of arms not available yesterday, but they should be able to shoulder the load tonight and give him a bit of rest.
Speaking of amplified, Randy Choate might have gotten out of the jam he left Neshek had the ball not hit his foot. Freddie Freeman did hit it hard and it might have gone through for a hit, but it well may have been a double play ball that sent the game to the ninth tied up. Baseball, as you may have heard, is a game of inches and that was extremely true last night.
After winning two games, the Cards lose again and fall to .500. Given the mediocre nature of this offense, that’s not a surprise. The calls for Oscar Taveras are only going to get louder if runs don’t show up on the board, though I do understand Mozeliak’s reticence to do so. It’s not a decision you make on a whim, though there’s plenty of argument for doing it now. Taveras went 0-4 in yesterday’s 2-0 loss to Oklahoma City, by the way.
Adam Wainwright looks to shake off that terrible start in Chicago in front of his family and friends. The Georgia native (who, it might be mentioned tonight, was drafted by the Braves) hopefully got his bad start out of the way and is ready to be Adam Wainwright again. There’s a good chance of that happening.
Not much there for the Braves to work with. B.J. Upton may be three for six, but his struggles over the past couple of years will possibly negate that. All in all, it’s at least a favorable matchup for the Cardinal ace.
Interesting to see that Mike Minor is on there, since that’s his opponent for tonight. Minor, who has made only one appearance this season after starting the year on the disabled list, actually beat Waino last July in a pretty tolerable pitcher’s duel. He beat the Cards twice last year, which hopefully is a streak that is not going to last.
At least there are no small samples to worry….oh, Jay’s three for six against him. Given that Matheny’s already said Bourjos will likely play, here’s my guess: Bourjos in center, Jay in right, Craig at first, Matt Adams with the day off. Keep an eye on Twitter and let’s see how close I get!