Mike Matheny Can’t Win

Darned if you do, darned if you don’t.

That was pretty much the scenario that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny found himself in when the ninth inning rolled around last night.  Consider the options he had with Adam Wainwright on the mound, with 104 pitches and eight scoreless innings under his belt:

A) He could send Wainwright out there for the ninth and watch him quickly get the Royals out, either in order or with a bare minimum of fuss.  In which case, the story is all about Wainwright and Matheny would be seen as just getting out of the way of the strong-willed pitcher.  I’m not saying that Matheny would have minded it, just that he probably wouldn’t have gotten credit for making the decision to leave Waino in.

B) He could send Wainwright out there, watch him run up his pitch count and see him get into trouble but leave him out there to finish his game, and see the Royals rally to win.  Then he gets blasted for not making a move to the bullpen, saying that he’s too loyal to his players and sometimes you have to make them mad to make the right call and win a game.

C) He could do what he did–send Wainwright out there, watch him get into trouble, and then go to the bullpen.  If Trevor Rosenthal locks down the save, he might get a little credit, but there’d be a number of fans complaining that Wainwright should have been left in to finish his own game, because we trust him more than the pen.  If, as it happens, Rosenthal doesn’t get the save, those cries are much louder.

D) He could have started the ninth with the bullpen.  No matter what happens there, he’d probably get the same complaints as in (C), because we as fans love Wainwright and figure normal human limitations don’t apply to our superhero.  We’d always assume Wainwright could have made it through without incident.

I’m not a Matheny apologist by any means–if you’ve read this space much you know I’ve questioned his tactics, his lineups, and other things–but it seemed that he was in a catch-22 (you really can’t avoid that pun with the skipper, honestly) last night.  If Rosenthal was last season’s Rosenthal, pulling Wainwright might have not engendered so much angst, but as we can readily tell, 2014 is different than 2013.

So, as much as Twitter was ready to rip him apart, I’ve got some sympathy for his situation.  I think, given the state of the bullpen, you probably need to pull Wainwright after eight–which would have been very tough to do, but with a two-run lead and no low-hit milestone to achieve, might have been what I’d have done–or let him work through the problems in the ninth, putting the game on his shoulders.

As I said on Twitter last night (and, if you are new here, you can follow me there), the problem with letting Wainwright start that inning was that if runners do get on, there’s no good exit strategy.  Having Wainwright throw 120 or so pitches isn’t optimal, but neither is bringing in this bullpen with the tying runs on.  Even though the ninth wasn’t completely Wainwright’s fault–he did strike out the first batter, but in such as fashion that the ball got past Yadier Molina and he reached base–you’d expect that a fresh pitcher usually trumps a guy around 110 pitches.  That just didn’t happen.

Now that I’ve defended Matheny a bit, or at least empathized with him, I have to say that it appears he hasn’t grown as much as a manager as I was thinking he had.  Last year, Matheny seemed to ease up on the bunting and I thought that was mainly because he’d come to realize it wasn’t usually the smart baseball play.  Now, it appears that it wasn’t because he’d learned, but because the offense was so robust, especially with runners in scoring position.  Because with the offense struggling, we’re seeing Matheny bring that “bunt with inappropriate people” play back out of his bag yet again and it’s frustrating.  Though perhaps it’ll make “Don’t Bunt, Matheny” a hit again.

Tuesday night, it was Matt Carpenter bunting over Jaime Garcia with nobody out in the fourth inning.  Which in retrospect, looking over the amazing run Carpenter’s on these past couple of days, was an even worse idea that it looked at the time, and it looked terrible at the time.  Then, last night, in the seventh inning of a one-run game, Carpenter doubles to lead things off.  Runner on second, nobody out, should easily be a situation where you swing away.  Second is scoring position and while third is better, the increase in ways to score isn’t usually worth the decrease in scoring by getting an out.  Yet, sure enough, Randal Grichuk squares to bunt.  It worked, but it shouldn’t have.  Jason Vargas slipped just a fraction getting to the ball, which was the only reason Carpenter wasn’t thrown out at third.

Look, it’s obvious Grichuk is struggling at the big league level, which isn’t surprising given his limited AAA at-bats.  Odds are he’d have struck out there, so the bunt makes some tactical sense in that regard.  You can’t pinch-hit Jon Jay there (like they did later in the game) because the lefty is still on the mound.  However, here’s the kicker–if Grichuk isn’t good enough to be trusted there, he shouldn’t be hitting second in the lineup.  I know there are reasons to have him up there, most likely figuring he’ll get fastballs and such with Carpenter on and Matt Holliday behind him, but it can short-circuit rallies as well.  Imagine if Oscar Taveras had come up in that situation.  Would Matheny have bunted with him?  (Don’t answer that, I don’t want to think about it.)

Anyway, it was a frustrating game at times last night, but it turned out for the best eventually.  Matt Carpenter gets the Hero tag again for another perfect performance, going 5-for-5 with a walk, scoring twice and driving in the winning run in the 11th.  Trevor Rosenthal gets the Goat because, even with two on and nobody out, you’ve got to get out of that inning with the lead and the win if you are the closer.  Even if you allow a run on three ground balls, you’ve got to get the win there.  Walking the first batter, even when it’s Alex Gordon who has been on a tear against the Cards, just puts you in a spot where even Harry Houdini looks at you and says, “Man, that’s a jam.”

To be fair, Rosenthal did have a chance.  It was a little surprising to see Carpenter not go to home for the force when he fielded the grounder, but if Mark Ellis is able to make the turn–and it wasn’t his fault, he had a runner right on him–maybe Rosie has two outs and a run in with a chance to finish it off.  The single by Lorenzo Cain was probably the toughest thing, as there was a path to victory still, he just couldn’t get on it.

By the way, kudos to Matheny for sending Peter Bourjos in the 11th after he drew a walk.  It was fairly automatic, but we’ve seen Bourjos stay put in similar situations before.  It’s also a nice thing to have a little speed on the team to have that opportunity, isn’t it?  Wish Bourjos could get on and be able to use it more.

Jhonny Peralta‘s off the hook for the Goat given Rosenthal’s issues, but it was still close.  Peralta went 0-5 and left six men on, which is becoming increasingly common.  He’s hitting .171 over his last 10 games and that counts his two-hit night on Tuesday.  It looks like Peralta is a streaky hitter (not sure if that’s been his reputation before or not) and even though he leads the team in homers, he’s not gone yard since May 20.  Hopefully the upward swing will happen soon.

Carpenter said after the game that hopefully that kind of contest would kickstart this team and get them going.  We’ve seen too often, though, that momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher and the Royals have a good young one going in Yordano Ventura.  Ventura skipped his last start with an arm issue that, thankfully for Royals fans, didn’t turn out to be anything that you had to see Dr. James Andrews about.  He’s a flamethrower that can run it up to 100 pretty regularly, but he struggled some in the month of May, posting a 5.60 ERA.  His last start he gave up five runs in 2.2 innings to the Astros.  When you do that, no wonder people start looking for a physical reason.  We’ll see if the Redbird bats can do something with him this evening.

St. Louis brings their own young phenom to the table in Michael Wacha.  Wacha was the only starter in the last time through the rotation to pitch well and has been solid all year long.  The Royals saw him last year and really weren’t thrilled with what they saw.

Lorenzo Cain 3 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Alcides Escobar 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Alex Gordon 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Eric Hosmer 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jeremy Guthrie 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Moustakas 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 16 16 1 1 0 0 0 0 4 .063 .063 .125 .188 0 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/5/2014.

If Wacha gives up just one hit tonight, I think we’ll be all right.  Most likely he’ll be clipped for a few more, but still, if you are going to start an actual winning streak, having Wacha on the mound is a great way to do it.

The draft starts tonight, as our Preacher has already mentioned.  Lots of mock drafts running around and I’m not any sort of informed on the high school or college players they’ll be focusing on.  That said, they got Wacha two years ago and Marco Gonzales, last year’s top pick, is already in AA and doing well.  If they can have that kind of success again this year, that window for the Cards will continue to be wide open.

Programming note: I typically write these posts before I go to work, which is why you don’t often see them on the weekend.  This week, my workplace started their “summer” hours (which run until Thanksgiving) of four 10-hour days with Fridays off.  So you’ll still probably get posts on Friday, but not always and usually much later in the morning.  Wanted to make sure both my readers were aware!

  • Buddhasillegitimatechild38 June 5, 2014, 7:03 am

    Great work and I completely agree top to bottom and want tohigh five you after every sentence but just as an observation, the Carp bunt looked like an ill advised attempt at a bunt single so it may not have been called by Matheny. Still, point stands.

    • Cardinal70 June 5, 2014, 7:22 am

      I was wondering about that. I didn’t see the game and so when I was reading the play-by-play of Tuesday’s game it stood out. I could easily see Carpenter thinking that’d be the way to get on, though it probably wasn’t the brightest thought he’s ever had. Still, it keeps his consecutive plate appearance reaching streak going with that sac bunt in the middle, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

      Thanks for the kind words!

      • Buddhasillegitimatechild38 June 5, 2014, 8:24 am

        Yeah it was a last second hard bunt to the third base side so it looked a lot like a bunt for a hit but he bunted it right by the pitchers mound so he was out pretty easily. Also you are welcome, it was a very good rundown.

  • mrlyngreen June 5, 2014, 8:55 am

    I was not angry at Matheny for how he handled Wainwright. I would not have sent him out in the 9th, I was hoping after the 8th that he wouldn’t. I still think Matheny is a crappy manager, but I am not blaming him for last night. Rosenthal hasn’t looked right all season; I think a reevaluation of the closer role might be in order.

    Yeah, the bunting is still a problem. Matheny stubbornly holds to old ways and ideas and after 2+ seasons I doubt that is going to change.

    Grichuk should go back to AAA after the interleague play is over. In my opinion, Grichuk is not the prospect most people seem to think he is. Every scouting report I have read on him says that he is a part time player off the bench, nothing more.

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will reiterate that Bourjos is never going to hit much the way he is being used. If I learned anything from watching him over 3 seasons is that he doesn’t perform well at the plate in a bench or platoon role. Lefty pitchers as a general rule are much harder to steal against, so playing him only against lefties is not going to generate the amount of stolen bases you would want. He is probably going to continue to disappoint people because he isn’t being used in the manner to get the best out of him, but the situation is what it is. A waste of talent, in my opinion, but my opinion doesn’t count for much.

    • Cardinal70 June 5, 2014, 9:20 am

      First off, I was just thinking that I hadn’t seen you comment recently. Glad to have you back!

      I think Grichuk can still be an asset, but I think he needs much more time to cook. Even if he was a legitimate power/fourth-outfielder type, he could work with this team. Right now, though, he’s not really equipped to survive the tough breaking stuff you are going to see in the bigs. He’s been tearing up Memphis, so the Quad-A label get raised, but I think he just needs some more time to get adjusted to things. If we were the Cubs, we could afford for him to learn in the bigs. Thankfully, we aren’t.

      I do wonder if Jason Motte will start getting some opportunities. Maybe a save on a day when Rosenthal isn’t available. Maybe coming into a game with a three-run lead. I don’t know, but I think there’s got to be something to do. Then again, Rosenthal had been on a nice run of being effective, so maybe it’s just him going through streaks. If Carp goes home or that double play gets turned last night, maybe we aren’t even talking about this. Lots of maybes, though.

      • mrlyngreen June 5, 2014, 9:36 am

        I didn’t mean to imply Grichuk wasn’t an asset. He would be a good bench bat/part time outfielder. The prevailing attitude that he is going to be a starting outfielder of the future is what I was getting at. Not according to any evaluation of him I have ever read. Maybe he will prove all the scouts and evaluators wrong. No, I see both Taveras and Piscotty (and perhaps Ramsey) in that starting outfielder role, but not Grichuk.

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