I know that I have been somewhat vocal in my criticism of Mike Shildt’s decisions in the playoffs. A lot of his decisions have not been great. His intentional walk blunder has been well documented, and even if it was not as bad as it may have seemed, it was still a bad decision. He also left the 38-year-old Adam Wainwright in the game too long, not once, but twice, while his lineup composition has also been questionable. However, despite all of his mistakes it is not his fault that the Cardinals are facing a 3-0 deficit in the NLCS against the Nationals entering Tuesday. That responsibility must fall squarely on the shoulders of the players — specifically the hitters.
The Cardinals pitching staff was very effective in the first two games against the Nationals. The group combined to allow just five runs in the first two games before allowing eight runners to cross the plate in the third game. This should be enough to win at least one game, but the Cardinals lack of offense has prevented this from happening. Maybe Mike Shildt is not ordering the lineup optimally (he is probably not) or playing the right players. Whatever the case is, the offense simply needs to do more. No matter how he configures the lineup, hitters are supposed to hit.
Players such as Dexter Fowler (.069 postseason batting average), Matt Carpenter (.091), and Yadier Molina (.115) have been notably quiet. (Although we must not discount Yadi’s efforts in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Braves.)
This lack of performance cannot be contributed to Shildt. When the team’s key contributors go cold at the plate at a very inconvenient time, it is unfortunately out of Shildt’s hands.
Recently, ESPN ran a story focused around the St. Louis skipper. As the article questions some (several) of his moves this October, I feel like the losing is being pinned squarely on Shildt; it shouldn't be.
A manager cannot win, no matter what he does, if his team is not performing. Now this could become a problem if a team fails to perform for entire seasons at a time, but that is clearly not the case for these Cardinals. The team kept afloat early in the season and thrived after the All-Star break, winning the National League Central division and making the postseason for the first time since 2015. A manager often gets too much of the credit for good times and too much of the blame for a poor run of results. It is fair to be angry at Shildt for botching some important decisions in the postseason, but it is not fair to say that he is the reason for the Cardinals premature departure.
It is important to note that Shildt has about one and a half years of MLB managerial experinece under his belt now. He has been in the organization for quite some time and has managed plenty of minor league affiliates. However, as this is just his first taste of the MLB postseason, it is understandable for him to make mistakes. It is common for managers to use different strategies and philosophies in the postseason in order to gain an extra edge. Shildt simply needs to work on adapting better.
Many of Shildt’s struggles in the postseason were not present in the regular season. For the most part, he wouldn't overwork his starting pitchers. He did not stick to a philosophy of aggressively or conservatively pulling them. Instead, he reacted based on the situation and sometimes pulled his starters after four (or eight) innings, depending on the pitcher and the individual situation.
Bullpen utilization was also a strength for Shildt throughout the summer. For instance, he was good about using Giovanny Gallegos in key situations. He adapted well to handle the loss of Jordan Hicks early in the season. His strategies in the summer haven't applied to this fall. It has seemed like he waits for damage to happen before making a change, instead of trying to prevent it. There is a balance to this, but it seems that Shildt has yet to find it.
His lineup composition has also left a lot to be desired. It would have been nice to seen Harrison Bader play more in the postseason instead of a slumping Matt Carpenter, who has struggled at the plate all year. Shildt did not hesitate to put Bader in his lineup, at the expense of Carpenter, in the regular season after he was recalled from Memphis. So it is odd that he is doing it now. Obviously the Cardinals needed a jolt on offense, but relying on Carpenter to provide that when he posted a .726 OPS and a 95 wRC+ seemed questionable. Bader proved to be a more valuable player over the course of the season and his speed and defense could have been valuable for the team. Other decisions, such as sticking with Dexter Fowler amidst his slump have proponents and opposition, but at the very least there was plenty of controversy surrounding his choices.
Despite his lack of postseason success this far, Shildt is still a good manager. He has proven that over the last year and a half, and he has demonstrated that he can connect well with the players. Obviously, there have been mistakes this October. Nonetheless, it is not entirely — or even mostly — his fault that the Cardinals are on the brink of elimination.