Exit Interview: Mike Matheny

The last couple of years, I spent the time immediately after the season examining each player that had made an appearance in St. Louis during the season.  This series was well received and so I’m bringing this idea back for the 2014 offseason.  More summaries than anything, I imagine the player coming into Mike Matheny‘s–well, in this case, John Mozeliak’s–office and having a short conference before heading home for the winter.  

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Manager: Mike Matheny

Season record: 90-72

Postseason record: 4-5

Overall grade: C

Positives: Led the team back to the postseason, even as things were less than optimal….seemed to ease up some on the bunting, though there were still times he called for one that frustrated folks….continued to have the loyalty of everyone in the clubhouse, the major reason he was hired.

Negatives: Didn’t seem to handle the Jon JayPeter Bourjos outfield situation very well….continued to run out the remains of Allen Craig even when it was obvious Craig wasn’t going to rebound….continued to be frustrating with his bullpen usage, including sticking with Trevor Rosenthal much longer than most everyone else would have and compounding the issue by saying he wanted Rosie to “feel like a king out there.”

Overview: All in all, it felt like Matheny regressed a little bit in 2014.  The bullpen was the major focus, with him continuing to run Rosenthal out there night after night when it was obvious the guy could use some rest.  He’d stick with him come heck or high water as well, though at least by the end of the year conceded enough to start warming up someone behind him when Rosenthal got into trouble.  There was also the Michael Wacha issue in the playoffs, not using him until the final inning of the final game.

The outfield was a situation that caused some angst as well.  Bourjos didn’t seem to get a full trial out there and then was buried on the bench when Jay took off.  Craig had to be traded to Boston before Matheny stopped putting him out there.  Oscar Taveras spent a lot more time in Memphis and a lot more time on the bench than many people expected.  Randal Grichuk earned a good chunk of playing time down the stretch, but seemed exposed at times in the playoffs.

Mix in the Kolten Wong demotion, the continued use of Daniel Descalso, and some questionable tactical decisions (or non-decisions) and you have a situation where, before October 26, many fans were wondering if maybe a change wouldn’t do the Cardinals good.  With Joe Maddon sitting out there, it was a tempting possibility, even if the odds of that happening were somewhere between 1% and 0%.

Outlook: After October 26, a lot of things changed in the perception of Matheny.  No, he’s not likely to become a tactical genius overnight, though you can at least hope that he’ll get better at it.  (I’m not sure the promotion of David Bell to bench coach will help, but we’ll see.)  He’s still going to frustrate folks with how he used the pen and the bench.  Most of those things we can just hope improve by degrees over time.

However, to keep a cohesive team, to keep players focused on the game instead of on the tragedy that’s befallen them, there’s no one better than Matheny to lead this squad.  He knows them, not only as players but as men.  They know he’s got their best interest at heart and that he’s grieving just like they are.  They’ll play for him, they’ll rally around each other, and hopefully that will mean 2015 is a special year for them.

What’s that saying about Batman?  He’s the hero Gotham deserves but not the one it needs right now?  Matheny’s no Batman.  He may not be the manager the Cardinals deserve, but he’s the one they need right now.

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