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Analyzing Mike Matheny's decisions in Game 4 of the NLCS

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Taking a closer look at the moves in the Cardinals' disappointing loss.

Thearon W. Henderson

Players win or lose games. Managers have an effect. They play a role, but ultimately it is on the players to execute. Last night, Shelby Miller did not pitch his best game, and defensive miscues by the normally steady Jon Jay and Matt Adams hurt the team. However, there is not a whole lot to analyze with those moves. For better or worse, Mike Matheny has been the decision-maker in terms of on-field moves for the past three seasons for the Cardinals. Every game, the manager is tasked with putting his team in the best position to make plays. Here are Mike Matheny's decisions in Game of the NLCS.

The Lineup

Today's Lineups

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Matt Carpenter - 3B Gregor Blanco - CF
Jon Jay - CF Joe Panik - 2B
Matt Holliday - LF Buster Posey - C
Matt Adams - 1B Pablo Sandoval - 3B
Jhonny Peralta - SS Hunter Pence - RF
Kolten Wong - 2B Brandon Belt - 1B
A.J. Pierzynski - C Travis Ishikawa - LF
Randal Grichuk - RF Brandon Crawford - SS
Shelby Miller - RHP Ryan Vogelsong - RHP

The Decision: The top three hitters in terms of on-base percentage are the first three hitters in the lineup, which is good. Starting A.J. Pierzynski is defensible, although if he got the start because he's lefthanded, and not because he is the best handler of Shelby Miller, that move is questionable. If Oscar Taveras was not going to the get the start after a homer in Game 2, there was no way he was going to start over Grichuk in Game 4 after the latter hit a home run in Game 3 despite Grichuk's general struggles against righties. While Peter Bourjos has reached Wacha-levels of invisibility in the series, it should be noted that Miller is a fly-ball pitcher and Bourjos can cover a ton more ground than Jay in centerfield.

The Result: The top of the lineup looked good in the first when Carpenter and Jay got on and the Cardinals took the lead. Pierzynski did have a key RBI, although Miller shook him off several times at the mound, something he would not have done with Yadi. How Cruz would have handled the Cardinals' starter is up for debate. Jay misplayed a ball in the first that resulted in runs for the Giants. Grichuk went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to lower his line in the playoffs to .161/.188/.355.

Pulling Shelby Miller

The Decision: Miller began to struggle in earnest in the third. He was severely missing his spots with the fastball. Matheny recognized this and started getting Choate up in the bullpen. After the right-handed Buster Posey got a hit to cut the lead down to 4-3, the left-handed Brandon Belt came to the plate with the chance to give the Giants the lead. Miller stayed in the game. Miller then came up second in the top of the fourth inning and Matheny chose to let him hit. Either Bourjos or Taveras could have hit at that time and not been wasted as a double-switch was possible with Grichuk in the eighth spot in the lineup. Martinez or Gonzales could have started the fourth and been asked to get multiple innings without their spot in the lineup coming up.

The Result: Shelby Miller got out of the third by getting Brandon Belt out. As would be expected, he did not generate any offense with his at bat and then could not make it through the next inning. Choate came in with two outs and again walked the first hitter. Martinez was warming in the bullpen at the time, but Choate got the left-handed Panik out to end the inning.

Carlos Martinez/Marco Gonzales and the Matt Adams plays

The Decision: El Gallo entered the game at the beginning of fifth. A double-switch for Jay was possible at the time in case the pitcher's spot came up in the next inning. Marco Gonzales came in to pitch the sixth.

The Result: Martinez was not great, but pitched only the fifth inning and got through the heart of the order without giving up a run. His spot did not come up in the order (it would have if he had been double-switched into the game in the third or fourth, but then he also would have pitched two innings), but he was not asked to go another inning despite not pitching since Sunday.

Marco Gonzales did come in on a double-switch that brought in the weak-hitting Tony Cruz. He would lead off the seventh and make an out. Gonzales pitched for the third time in four days and was not as sharp as he had been, walking the leadoff hitter, giving up a single on the next hitter and getting an out on a bunt. The next play, with the infield in, Juan Perez was running on contact and Adams could not come up with the ball immediately and could not beat Perez home with his throw. Not playing the infield in gets a sure out, but Adams bears the culpability on this play. The next play was even worse for Adams. He got the grounder from Panik and stepped on the bag, but he made a poor throw to second when he could have kept the runner at third by holding onto the ball. The entire inning is a gigantic game of "What If?". What if Martinez had come in instead of Gonzales? What if Adams had gone for the sure out the first big play and not tried to make up for that mistake on the second big play? The Cardinals likely end the inning at worst, tied. Instead, after Maness came in to relieve Gonzales and Posey singled, the Cardinals found themselves down 6-4 and could not quite find their way back.

Miscellany

Oscar Taveras did come in the game in the eighth and got a hit, but was stranded when Randal Grichuk flied out to center. Daniel Descalso, batted in the ninth and made an out. Peter Bourjos never got in the game. With Molina hurt and Wacha likely unavailable, the Cardinals have again found themselves with a short roster. Neshek came in for the eighth, which was a good move to give the Cardinals a chance in the ninth. With Martinez and Neshek pitching a single inning, they are likely available today, as is Rosenthal, who has not pitched since Sunday. Gonzales' availability is a question mark. He has not been a reliever very long and recovery time could be an issue.

The players on the field lost this game with poor execution. Matheny made a few questionable decisions, but the Cardinals were in a position to win and could not execute. Adam Wainwright gets another shot to show he is right and the Cardinals get another crack at Madison Bumgarner. The outlook does not look good for the Cardinals, but of course it did not look good for the Giants two years ago. The Royals have won eight straight playoff games. The Cardinals need to manage three to survive.