St. Louis Cardinals Rookie Manager Needs to Learn from his October Mistakes

Ed Zurga - Getty Images

Mike Matheny has never managed in the postseason before and it shows in his handling of the starting pitchers.

Long ago, I grew tired of folks bringing up Matheny's lack of managerial experience. In my case, there are a few reasons for this. I think baseball managers get too much credit for what happens on the field during games. I also think baseball managers get too much blame for those same events. I believe a manager's most important job occurs during the time fans don't see the players. I think it involves managing personalities. Sometimes this involves lineup machinations and inevitably overlaps with what fans see on the field, but I think most of it occurs behind the scenes. That being said, on-field tactics and substitutions matter--especially during the postseason. Matheny has a lot to learn in this regard.

On Friday night, the Cardinals were staring down elimination. A loss and their season was over. Matheny had ace Adam Wainwright lined up for the start, after making a solid start in Game 1 of the series. Wainwright didn't have his best stuff on Friday. This was a reality to anyone who watched the righty pitch during the season, and not just because the Nationals jumped on Wainwright for three first-inning runs on a double, triple, and home run. Wainwright's fastball lacked life and was often left over the plate. Yet Matheny stuck with him. Because of this, the Nationals were able to light up the righty a second time, with two homers in the third. The 6-0 deficit Wainwright left the Cards seemed insurmountable. The Cardinals bats got Wainwright off the hook, won the series in miraculous fashion, and stymied most criticism of the manager's inexplicably long leash for his starter.

Before Friday's game, Matheny announced Lance Lynn as the starting pitcher for the first game of the NLCS, if the Cardinals made it that far. Lynn had thrown in four of the club's six postseason games, out of the bullpen. On Thursday night, he infamously gave up Jayson Werth's walk-off homer. In the second game of the NLDS, he threw 50 pitches. In the fourth, he threw 13 pitches. Nobody keeps track of how many warm-up tosses he threw in the bullpen. At any rate, Lynn was on short rest in the sense that he had been pitching all week in relief.

In last season's postseason, Tony La Russa offered a doctorate-level class in how to manage starting pitchers during the postseason. His quick hook for starters was well-documented. The relievers actually threw more innings in the NLCS than the starters. The catalyst for this eventuality seemed to be Jaime Garcia's disastrous Game 1 start in Milwaukee in which the lefty gave up six runs in four innings before he was pulled by the veteran manager. After that game, the starter's leash was tightened. At the first inkling of trouble, La Russa would pulled the starter. Winning was the end-all, be-all of La Russa's strategy. A starter giving up early runs compromised this goal, and so the pitcher would be removed quickly and with impunity.

Game

Starter

Innings

NLCS Game 1

Garcia

4.0 IP

NLCS Game 2

Jackson

4.1 IP

NLCS Game 3

Carpenter

5.0 IP

NLCS Game 4

Lohse

4.1 IP

NLCS Game 5

Garcia

4.2 IP

NLCS Game 6

Jackson

2.0 IP

World Series Game 1

Carpenter

6.0 IP

World Series Game 2

Garcia

7.0 IP*

World Series Game 3

Lohse

3.0 IP

World Series Game 4

Jackson

5.1 IP

World Series Game 5

Carpenter

7.0 IP*

World Series Game 6

Garcia

3.0 IP

World Series Game 7

Carpenter

6.0 IP


*Oddly enough, the Cardinals' two starts over six innings in length during the NLCS and World Series occurred in games the team lost: Garcia's masterful start in World Series Game 2 and Carpenter's impressive start in Game 5.

I don't know if Lynn hit a wall in terms of his endurance or not, but I do know that the context of his Game 1 start caused me to worry going in. Lynn caused me to worry less with his stellar start to the game. He even recorded two outs in the fourth before Hunter Pence grounded a single through the infield to give the Giants two runners on with two outs. Then, Lynn made a decent first pitch to Brandon Belt that broke his bat, but the struck ball blooped into the outfield for a single that made it a 6-1 game. Gregor Blanco followed the blooper by lacing a liner into the right-center gap for a triple that cleared the bases. Then Brandon Crawford doubled home Blanco. Suddenly, it was 6-4 and Joe Kelly was scrambling to get loose in the bullpen as Lynn walked Aubrey Huff. Kelly then came in and induced a grounder that Daniel Descalso turned into an out with an excellent diving play. He came out early and threw well, but then his fastballs began to tail a bit less and end up over the middle part of the plate.

Matheny has a lot to learn because he's never done this before. It's the postseason. Every out is precious and every run even more so. When two runners reached against Lynn, who was starting after throwing in relief all of last week, Kelly should have been getting loose. Kelly and his fellow middle relievers, Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica, have pitched very well. (I would even include Shelby Miller in the group.) They are a very nice bridge to the late innings and Matheny should not hesitate to turn to them at the first sign of trouble. Matheny stuck with his starter too long for a second straight game and, in doing so, hurt his team's chances at winning an all-important postseason game. The Cardinals cannot afford many more of these rookie mistakes.

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