The St. Louis Cardinals can be said to have won Wednesday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks with a combination of grit and luck. It can also be said that by the club won by overcoming its own manager, Mike Matheny. When Matt Holliday crossed the plate with the winning run that marked the end of a game the Diamondbacks largely gave away, it served as a microcosm of its season so far. For the Cardinals, it was a different kind of triumph.
First let’s make something clear — I am not calling for drastic management changes that would upend team chemistry and create divisions. By most accounts, Matheny is a well-liked and respected skipper who the players trust and work hard for. This alone is enough to exercise more patience with him. However, a couple of disturbing decisions made during the game should be addressed. First, with the bases loaded and two out in a tie game in the bottom of the 10th, regular shortstop Jhonny Peralta‘s backup, Daniel Descalso was allowed to bat.
Now Descalso has his positives, but he is not Peralta at the plate. Presumably this was done because of the righty pitcher, lefty hitter setup, but it is a stretch to suggest Descalso has a better shot at success than the seasoned Peralta for that scenario alone. Later, Peralta would bat for former and perhaps future closer Jason Motte in a much lower leverage situation-leading off the 11th.
Motte, for his part, was brilliant over two innings in returning for the first time in over a year. However again, one can question why Matheny let his recovering reliever go two innings. True, his pitch count was low, but the lack of apparent caution was stunning. This season so far, we have seen Matheny let a pitcher bat with runners in scoring position of a tie game in extras, the aforementioned events and a continual overuse of the bench crippling the team’s flexibility in late-game situations.
Matheny has respect and he has earned it, but the experimentation must take a back seat to conventionality if the club is to succeed. Hunches, loyalty and curiosity seem to play much too large of a role on Matheny’s management. Sometimes the easiest way to be the smartest guy in the room is simply to not think too much.