The World Series is upon us and, as we all know, the Cardinals, through a series of unfortunate events, failed to clinch the National League Championship and play in this year's fall classic. Were mistakes made? Yes. Did Matheny mismanage the team? Probably. Would I have done anything different in his position? Of course. Would the outcome have been different? Who knows?
You can never know, in baseball, what would have happened if one little cog had changed. What would have happened if Mike Matheny had listened to my cries on twitter to pull Kozma? What would have happened if Matt Carpenter, the only Cardinal who had been successful in doing anything in Game 6, had a single plate appearance in Game 7? What would have happened if Matt Holliday had recused himself from playing this very important elimination game, recognizing that his back just wasn't up to it? What would had happened? We don't know.
What I do know is what I would have done. Nobody likes a Monday Morning Quarterback, and obviously, Matheny did something right to get to this point, but we know that the decision to have Chris Carpenter pitch Game 6 due to sentimentality was part of the reason we went to Game 7 in the first place. And the Game 7 lineup looked just like the one in Game 5, which we lost to Barry Freaking Zito. So what would I have done differently?
Pull Kozma, Play Carpenter
Pete Kozma was really a lifesaver for the Cardinals in the NLDS. He went from being Rafael Furcal's caddy to the hero of the Cardinals. Kozmania was rampant. T-Shirts were put into mass production, jerseys were made up, hashtags trended. And then it was gone. Kozma simply was not up to snuff with the rest of the Cardinals hitting or fielding. He played average shortstop and hit for nothing. Matt Carpenter, on the other hand, really stepped up to the plate for the Cards. When Beltrán was out for Game 3, the junior Carp did his best imitation of Beltrán to help the Cards to win the next two games. When Holliday was out of Game 6, the other Matt was the only player to consistently get on base. And yet, mysteriously, Matt Carpenter was completely out of the Cardinals Game 7 lineup, while Kozma remained.
Shake Things Up
Don't be afraid to mess with the lineup. There was a lot of pressure on Matt Holliday and Allen Craig for all of their at-bats to be big and important, and instead, neither one managed any sort of contribution. Put them in less vital roles and maybe they would have produced something that they weren't able to in the previous two games. Here's my Cardinals batting order for Game 7:
- Jon Jay CF
- Charlie Beltrán RF
- David Freese 3B
- Matt Carpenter 1B
- Yadier Molina C
- Matt Holliday LF
- Allen Craig 2B
- Cpl. Daniel Descalso SS
- Kyle Lohse P
Yeah, I'd move the entire infield over one to get Kozma out of the lineup, only because I think Craig and Descalso are more comfortable at second base and shortstop than Freese is playing short (though, apparently, he was the best shortstop in Missouri as a high schooler.)
Use the God Dang Bullpen
Kyle Lohse loaded the bases and gave up three runs in the bottom of the third inning, partially due to being missed by Kozma and being misplayed by Jon Jay. While the runners belonged to Lohse, the pitch that hit Hunter Pence's slow motion broken bat came from Joe Kelly. While Kelly is a very good reliever, with the bases loaded, and outs desperately needed, the Cardinals needed to go to their very best, namely Rosenthal, or even pitch Wainwright out of the bullpen. Instead, Kelly gave up two unearned runs of his own until Panda lined out off of Mujica. The rest of the bullpen pitched fine for the rest of the game, but the five-run third from Lohse and Kelly really pushed the Giants to the unconquerable edge.
So would I have won Game 7? Possibly. I don't know if my lineup had a higher probability or if Matheny's did. Or even if the probability would make a difference. All I know is that the 2013 Cardinals will look almost exactly like the Cardinals we saw in this postseason, except with Rafael Furcal hopefully back at shortstop, and maybe Matt Carpenter learning to play second base. This year was a rebuilding year for the Cards. We lost our manager of 15 years. We lost the face of our team and one of the best players in baseball. Our season was plagued by injuries. Half of the team was playing in Memphis last August. Five of our eight starting position players (plus Matt Carpenter) were pre-arbitration this year. The only players we're losing to free agency in November are Lohse and Berkman. The Cardinals are going to be fine, and by next year, the Cardinals are going to be feared. Watch out, Reds. Be afraid, Brewers. Pack light, Pirates. Be prepared, Cubs. The Astros had the right idea to leave. The NL Central belongs to St. Louis for the foreseeable future. Get used to it. Until then, I'm going to watch Basketball.