Can The St. Louis Cardinals Win the World Series In Spite of Manager Mike Matheny?

Jamie Squire

The second-year manager's handling of pitching substitutions has hurt the Cardinals this World Series.

Following the Redbirds' 2011 World Series championship, Mike Matheny took over the helm in St. Louis from the retiring Tony La Russa. The exiting manager was a devout statistician who was willing to play every platoon split to his advantage, for better or worse and no matter how small the sample size. Fittingly, the Cardinals' 2011 postseason run was La Russa's magum opus. The veteran kept his pitchers on an incredibly short leash. In the NLCS, Cardinals relievers threw more innings than the club's starters as La Russa played the matchups, often using both lefties in his pen as well as three or more righties as the platoon splits dictated. La Russa's playing the platoon advantage continued through the 2011 World Series' seventh game, a Cardinal victory.

Matheny apparently learned nothing from La Russa's success. The novice manager likes to leave his pitchers in, no matter the jam they find themselves in. Most glaring is Matheny's tendency to stick with starters instead of pulling them for a reliever.

In the regular season, Matheny's trust and faith in his pitchers is fine. Leaving pitchers in to try and wriggle out of jams is understandable, perhaps even warranted. It allows the manager to see how the pitcher responds and the pitcher the opportunity to overcome adversity. In 2013, it's impossible to argue with the results Matheny's trust-and-faith approach generated. The Cardinals were first in the league in wins and run differential.

The MLB postseason is a different animal from the 162-game marathon that is the regular season. The importance of each individual game is magnified exponentially in October. Series often turn on a single inning. La Russa learned to recognize how brutal and unforgiving the postseason is. This informed his 2011 bullpen usage. Every pitcher had a short leash because, if that pitcher didn't have his best stuff, it could cost the Cardinals the season. La Russa pinch-hitting for starter Edwin Jackson with Allen Craig in the top of the third (with a 7-4 lead) in NLCS Game 6 is the ultimate example of La Russa's postseason pitching usage philosophy.

Unlike La Russa, with his quick hook, Matheny has consistently left pitchers in too long in postseason contests, often hurting the Cardinals' chances to win the game. What could be explained away as ignorant inexperience last October has established itself as Matheny's modus operandi this postseason. In the World Series, Matheny's tendencies have been on center stage.

Game 2

The Cardinals have two lefthanded relievers in their bullpen, but Matheny didn't feel the need to use either of them In the sixth inning of Game 2. Rookie righthander Michael Wacha walked Dustin Pedroia, who represented the tying run. Up next was Red Sox folk hero David Ortiz, a lefthanded hitter with a pronounced platoon split. In 2013, Ortiz hit .260/.315/.418/.733 against lefties and .339/.440/.652/1.092 against righties. The righty Wacha was nearly to the 100-pitch mark. Lefthanded reliever Randy Choate had held lefthanded batters to a .176/.268/.224/.492 line in 2013. Nonetheless, Matheny left Choate in the pen and allowed Wacha to pitch to Ortiz. Big Papi whacked a Wacha change over The Green Monster, giving the Sox a 2-1 lead. Luckily, the Cardinals were able to mount a rally--aided and abetted by poor Red Sox defense--and win the game 4-2.

Game 3

Matheny appeared to learn from his Game 2 mistake in the sixth inning of Game 3. After starter Joe Kelly walked leadoff man Shane Victorino and retired Pedroia on a lineout to third baseman David Freese, Ortiz was due to bat. Matheny pulled Kelly and brought in Choate to face the lefhanded batter. Ortiz singled, which brought up switch-hitter Daniel Nava with runners on first and third in a 2-1 game. Nava batted .252/.311/.336/.647 against lefties in 2013 and .322/.411/.484/.894 against righthanders. In spite of Nava's severe platoon split, Matheny pulled the lefty Choate in favor of righthander Seth Maness. The Cardinals manager has apparently bought into the notion that Maness has the skill of inducing GIDP, so he pulled Choate (68.4% GB rate in 2013) for Maness (68.4% GB rate in 2013) to face Nava, who kills righties, in the hopes of ending the inning with a double play. Nava singled off the righthanded Maness to tie the game before Maness induced an inning-ending double play. Fortunately, the Cardinals wound up winning the game 5-4 on an obstruction call.

Game 4

Whereas the Cardinals were able to scrap together enough runs to win World Series Game 2 and Game 3, Matheny's incompetence proved fatal in Game 4. Like Kelly in Game 3, starter Lance Lynn threw a good game but ran into sixth-inning trouble. Lynn retired the first two Red Sox batsmen of the sixth, but then allowed Pedroia to single. With Choate loose and Ortiz up, Matheny left Choate in the 'pen, opting to let the righty Lynn pitch to Ortiz. (We covered Ortiz's 2013 platoon split above.) Lynn walked Ortiz, which put the go-ahead run in scoring position.

Righthanded batters hit .247/.299/.353/.652 against Lynn in 2013 and .285/.319/.405/.724 against Maness. With the righthanded-hitting Jonny Gomes up, Matheny pulled Lynn and brought Maness in. Gomes slammed a three-run dinger of the pitch-to-contact specialist to give the Red Sox a 4-1 lead. With the homer, Maness allowed his second and third inherited runs to score in two games (as well as one of his own). The homer proved decisive as the Red Sox defeated the Cardinals 4-2.

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Adam Wainwright takes the mound in tonight's pivotal World Series Game 5. Gods of baseball willing, the wagonmaker and the Cardinals batters will make the game elementary so that Matheny's pitching decisions will be inconsequential. To put it another way, hopefully the Cardinals can win Game 5 and the World Series in spite of their manager.

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