Look, I feel the same way about Game 2 that every other St. Louis fan does. It was a game that felt very winnable by the Cardinals and impacts pretty much every other decision going forward in not only this series but the other possible two as well. And while I’m really trying my hardest not to be overly dramatic, the last 24 hours only made the next 24 slightly less agonizing.
To put it simply, the Cubs enter a pair of contests at Wrigley with every intention of not returning to Busch until 2016. That is a less than comforting thought to anyone outside of Chicago who would rather not move to a non-English speaking country with no internet or any other form of media. Both squads have proven they belong but sadly, that isn’t going to cut it for either moving forward.
The ‘Loveable Loser’ tag has been disappearing from the North Side ever since they tabbed Joe Maddon to run point. He was the perfect man for the job and you know what else? Maddon would have looked awfully good wearing the Birds on the Bat as well. Mike Matheny can afford to learn a few things from the veteran skipper, the first and most important being when to call a player on their bluff.
Jaime Garcia won’t be the center of this piece as he was here, but he rates very highly on the you-know-what list. Maybe we were all wrong to put too much attention on the value of a manager, especially as Matheny was swiftly navigating through the minefield of issues this summer. The former Cardinal has learned quickly on the job and in any other city, that very well may be enough.
I was even finally starting to come around, as the additions to his staff over the years seemed to bring it all together. The four consecutive trips deep in October is an amazing story with surprising outcomes if you actually look at it. No one else honestly could have stepped in without missing a beat or wanting ‘their guys’ like Matheny did and have that kind of immediate impact.
What it comes down to then revolves around one key factor. As good as Matheny has become at getting the pieces to fit in the system (using younger players especially), he still fails to make the tough call in the worst spots. Game two was lost before it began, as Garcia was again not held responsible for a lack of communication. Yes, he wanted to give it a go and by all means, the Cards did need him. But they needed the very best he could offer, not the Spring Training version.
And while the news did come out that Matheny had a Plan B in place, we will forever be left with why him, why now no matter what happens in Chicago. Maddon, on the other hand, seems to be clicking at just the right time. He struggled early but just take a look at that roster from April to June to know why he will be the runaway winner of the MOY award. It wasn’t until the poster child of the Cubs’ past was relegated off his preferred position that the Baby Bears grew up in a hurry.
Starlin Castro in many ways mirrors some of the same issues found with Garcia. Multiple managers have tried and failed to get the best out of the gifted player, but he just seemed to operate on a different wavelength than those around him. Maddon found the right button to push, though, and Castro found only two doors left with neither labeled shortstop. He chose second base over a ticket out of the windy city and has not looked back.
Make no mistake about it, Maddon will be a thorn in the side of St. Louis well past the next two or even three games. He has Chicago playing with extreme confidence while cracks are beginning to show on the other side. Matheny rarely second-guesses announced decisions, but even that has changed after the trip up I-55.
No one can predict the outcome of October baseball, and we all will be watching with just as much hope and excitement in what is sure to be one wild pair of games. I’m just a little less confident that Matheny has finally figured out what his predecessor seemed to do all-to-well. Nope, I won’t compare a Hall of Fame manager to a guy who literally walked in from the booth to take over. He has fared quite a bit better than many of his counterparts but that’s not the issue, is it?
The window of opportunity in the National League closes with every passing month it seems, and the Cardinals are not getting any younger. Now it is time to see if Matheny really has any surprises left or if the questions start to get increasingly more difficult to answer.