I am as hard on Mike Matheny as just about anyone else here at VEB (ok, that's probably not true, but bear with me...) for his poor decisions, his poor lineup choices, his poor tactics (more on that later), and pretty much anything related to parceling out playing time effectively.
Mike Matheny was a big reason the Cardinals won Game 3 of the NLDS last night.
That's not going to be a popular opinion, I'm well aware, but I think that Matheny made all the right moves last night (except one, because hey, who's perfect?), including one of the best mound visits in recent memory. Was he as important as Matt Carpenter? No. Kolten Wong? Certainly not. However, his alertness to a potential ninth inning meltdown may have saved the game.
First, lets take a look at a few other key decisions and how those played a part in getting to the ninth inning with a 3-1 lead:
Sticking with John Lackey for far longer than most of VEB would have.
I'll admit -- I was ready to take him out in the sixth inning and turn the game over to the bullpen. Thing is, when you go back and look at the pitches in that inning that led to the Dodgers tying it up, the only really bad one was the ball to Hanley Ramirez. He'd gotten Puig to swing through two other fastballs in the same location as that one, ending both of his previous plate appearances, but you have to credit Puig for jumping on that ball away and doing something with it this time around. Even then, the ball was fair by about 6 inches at most and Grichuk played the ball into the corner terribly, which should have been a one base error, in my opinion: A more seasoned fielder in RF would know to pull up a bit and wait for the carom out of the corner. If Puig only gets a double on that ball rather than a triple he might not have score in the inning.
Lackey bears down: Throws a great pitch to Gonzalez to get him to softly pop up to Holliday in left field and then plays Matt Kemp like a fiddle, working the black on both sides of the plate with perfect location to send him down on strikes. Lackey's mistake was relaxing after the Kemp strikeout -- it caused him to miss location to Ramirez who was likely going to be hacking early in the count anyway. Credit the Dodgers: Puig's good piece of hitting and Hanley jumping on a mistake and punishing it.
Bunting Yadier Molina over as the winning run in the bottom of the 7th inning.
Yes, you're giving up an out to do so, but consider a few things:
- Given his lack of speed, it's likely going to take two hits to score Molina from second base (unless it's on an extra base hit)
- Mike Matheny knows that Mike Matheny is not lifting Yadier Molina for a pinch runner in that situation.
- He also knows that he will be pinch hitting for John Lackey that inning and will have at least two chances to drive in the run from third base.
Inexplicably double switching Matt Holliday out of the game for no apparent reason.
As I tweeted last night:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Can someone make Mike Matheny a double switch chart? Please? Because this one fails at least 4 of the conditions necessary. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/stlcards?src=hash">#stlcards</a></p>— Eric Johnson (@emjohnson17) <a href="https://twitter.com/emjohnson17/status/519332316871532544">October 7, 2014</a></blockquote>
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I've defended Matheny double switches before when they failed a few conditions, this one failed all but the "when making a pitching change push the pitcher as far down in the order as possible" one. Except that's not an unconditional condition in the first place: It's really only important when the pitchers spot is likely to bat in the next inning and the pitcher may be asked to start the next half inning. Neither of those conditions were present: The pitchers spot was due up 6th and Neshek was never going to pitch multiple innings, nor was any pitcher that might have come in for Neshek going to pitch in the ninth.
Another reason you double switch is so the hitter you used as a pinch hitter for the pitcher can stay in the game -- that didn't happen either. Taveras was lifted for Bourjos and Jon Jay moved to left field, basically burning a potential pinch hitter later in the game. I like the defensive substitution mindset, but I think that pulling one of your best hitters with a 3-1 lead in the 8th inning is being too smart by half, which explains a good chunk of Matheny doubles switches throughout the season. It's almost as if he has to prove that he's smart enough to figure out the double switch even if the move itself makes little sense.
Using the old "wet dirt" trick to save Trevor Rosenthal from himself in the ninth inning.
This wasn't all on Matheny -- Yadi did his part too. After Carl Crawford's dying quail into center field putting men on first and second when nobody had yet hit the ball hard, it was clear that the first two pitches to Uribe were overthrown by Trevor Rosenthal. This is his one real weakness as a closer: If he gives up a couple of weak hits (and let's be honest, has any closer in recent Cardinal history given up more "excuse me" hits in a season than Rosenthal has? It seems like he gets BABIP'd to death in some of his appearances) his response is to throw as hard as humanly possible in an attempt to blow it by the next hitter.
That leads to rushing his delivery.
Which then leads to loss of command.
It was clear Yadi was going out to slow him down a bit. Matheny recognized the situation and made a quick decision to ask for some Diamond Dry to be placed on the mound. Now, anyone with any experience using Diamond Dry knows that while it is adept at soaking up a large volume of water in a short period of time, it's also not a surface that's necessarily good for a pitching mound because it can be fairly slick once it gets wet. The grounds crew didn't use very much of it at all, and that makes sense: The mound wasn't the problem, Rosenthal's head was. What better way for him to get the requisite time to calm down, clean out his spikes, while also getting a couple of warm up tosses to home plate as a way to "check the mound" -- you really can't ask for a better solution for Rosenthal's amped up intensity than that situation, and it was all created by Molina and Matheny.
Best of all, it worked. Once play resumed, Rosenthal proceeded to get Uribe and Ellis on fly balls to right field, working them both away with hard fastballs similar to what he had used to strike out Matt Kemp for the first out of the inning.
Sometimes #Mathenaging just works.