On the morning of July 15, in discussing the managerial move, I wrote this:
Mike Shildt takes over, which is what the front office has been positioning him for as well. I’d give pretty good odds that Shildt will keep the job after this season, but we’ll see what the club says when they have their press conference this morning.
Rusty had a post that outlined why Shildt would be the next manager as well. For those that watch this team, those that are invested in it, Shildt was less a guy that was in the room when the firing went down and more the one groomed for this spot. Yesterday, the club made official what we’d all suspected, signing Shildt to a contract that runs through 2020 and taking the “interim” tag off of him with five weeks left to go in the season.
Some of the national folks didn’t quite understand the move, feeling like the club was overreacting to 38 games (which, let’s be clear, is almost a quarter of a season, so it’s not like they had a good week). The rest of us know that these last few weeks, this 26-12 mark going into last night, that’s the confirmation of what the club was already thinking. They’ve seen Shildt come up through the minor leagues. They’ve pushed him into situations and watched what happened. They’ve moved him up the minors ladder and see him win at every level he’s been at. They know the connection to George Kissell and his understanding of what The Cardinal Way really means.
They created a vague, undefined “quality control coach” just to get him on a major league staff. When the coaching shuffle went down last year, Shildt then took over third base, one of the harder coaching spots, and immediately the decisions made on sending or holding runners improved. John Mozeliak remade the coaching staff this year to give Mike Matheny one last chance at success but it was not randomness or a fluke that Mike Shildt was installed as bench coach. He was put there to learn and be ready for exactly this situation.
Also in re Shildt being the guy sitting next to Matheny: he was basically sitting there to haunt Matheny as the ghost of manager future
— Malcolm Pierce (@RedbirdMenace) August 28, 2018
I will say that at least some of the national media aren’t dismissing Shildt as a managerial candidate as much as they are questioning the timing of committing to him for a long period of time. If you aren’t following this club every day, I can get that. I personally didn’t expect them to do this as early as they did for a number of reasons. I thought they might want to keep things focused on the field. I thought they might want to keep that urgency of “we are playing for his job”. I thought they would want to at least talk to some other people if only, as Derrick Goold said in one of his podcasts, to understand why they like what they have more.
However, I said around the time that he was hired that right then he had a 70% chance or more to get the job in 2019. Posting a .684 winning percentage in about a quarter of a season is only going to raise those odds. It was to the point that you wonder if anyone else would bother interviewing for the job, knowing that Shildt had such a commanding lead in the situation. Honestly, how aggravated would the fan base be if they didn’t bring back Shildt now? You’d have to have an awfully good reason to change horses after this kind of success.
Others pointed out that it might not be a coincidence that earlier yesterday Stubby Clapp won his second straight Triple-A Manager of the Year award. It would be easy to believe that Clapp has done all he can at a minor league level and they might want to start figuring out how to get him to the big leagues. This allows them to work on that. It also provides some clarity to Clapp, who might be recruited by some other organization to be a major league manager over the winter. (Someone on Twitter suggested Toronto, which makes excellent sense for the Canadian.) Perhaps the club is starting to look at what the staff will be next year and trying to figure out if there’s a place for him. If Jose Oquendo decides to go back to Florida, there could be a spot.
Also, it was noted that this gives the club stability going into the offseason. If they are looking at any free agents, and there will be a lot of them out there, they’ll know who the manager is and what he has done. They’ll have heard the glowing reports and can ask Cardinal players what they think of him. Bringing in someone new, even early on in the winter, wouldn’t give you that sort of certainty.
So would the club have a letdown after their manager lost the interim label? If last night is any indication, not really.
While there were some nice hitting performances, our Hero is going to be Jack Flaherty, who has come into his own in the second half. Last night, he allowed just one run over seven innings, striking out five while not walking a single batter. Walks have been Flaherty’s weakness at times, so if he’s going to start settling in there, the league is going to have to watch out. Not that he was doing bad before but just to have a place to measure from, Flaherty is 5-2 with a 2.28 ERA since the managerial change with a .159 BAA and 62 strikeouts in 47.1 innings. The question of the day yesterday, which I saw a version of from three folks including my Gateway co-host Tara Wellman, is who gets a one-game wild card play-in, him or Miles Mikolas? There are a lot of good points either way. Tara’s question was who do you trust more in that situation and I went with Mikolas, but looking at Flaherty’s August especially it’s hard to argue he’s not only getting better but he’s doing it consistently.
Flaherty was backed very early by a two-run homer by Jose Martinez, who smashed it in the first inning after Matt Carpenter had led off with an infield hit. Tyler O’Neill chipped in with his own two-run blast in the fourth and it looked like Jedd Gyorko had capped the scoring in the eighth with a two-run shot of his own, only to have replays indicate it was only a ground rule double and Paul DeJong had to return to third. Thankfully Greg Garcia singled in one of the runs so it wasn’t a complete reversal of fortune.
Gyorko left the game with a groin injury, which if they put him on the disabled list probably means the return of Adolis Garcia so that Yairo Munoz can be free to play the infield. Patrick Wisdom might get some starts at third, but with Kolten Wong also on the disabled list having another infielder wouldn’t hurt at all. Of course, a lot of people started talking about Josh Donaldson, whom the Cardinals have been excited about for a long time, but the odds of him falling through waivers that far is a big stretch and, given that he’s just now starting rehab, there’s a real question about what he could bring to the team anyway.
Our Goat for the night is Jordan Hicks. I know he isn’t going to read this, because I’ve thrown his name out a lot lately and he’s not responded, but it would be interesting to see Joe Schwarz look at if there is something going on with Hicks, some adjustment that he needs to make. While he looked great in that game against the Dodgers, that seems to be more of an abnormality lately than something to rely on. We marked Flaherty from the managerial change, so let’s look at Hicks’s numbers during the same span. He’s got a 5.79 ERA, he’s walked seven and struck out seven in 4.2 innings, he’s allowed one of the two inherited runners to score, and batters are hitting .350 against him. Now, in fairness, the first half of August had him with a 1.35 ERA with four strikeouts and two walks in 6.2 innings, so it could be just the ups and downs of a young pitcher. Right now he’s on the down, though, and you hope that won’t last long.
Bud Norris got the save (though you don’t often see a game end on a 3-6 double play) and the Cardinals had yet another win. Which means checking the scoreboard! The Cubs game was tied 1-1 in the 10th when the rain came and pushed the rest of the game off until today. Which means the Cubs can lose twice today! (They probably won’t, but we can hope.) That means temporarily the Cardinals are four games out of the division, but with Milwaukee losing St. Louis is now 1.5 games up in the first wild card spot and two games ahead of Colorado (who won) and Arizona (who lost, dropping into a first place NL West tie with the Rockies, a game ahead of the Dodgers–that’s going to be a wild finish!) for the last spot.
It’s still August, though, so you can’t get too wrapped up in leads and deficits. You just have to win games and series and the Cards will try to do both of those tonight with Mikolas on the mound. Gotta like your odds there, right? Let’s get that 10th consecutive series win tonight!