I like Mike Matheny, personally. Let me preface this article by stating this: the St. Louis Cardinals manager seems like a guy you'd see at the bar and pull a chair next to for a conversation about life, haircuts, and chess strategies. Off the field, he's a great dude. First-rate gent. On the field — notably in the dugout — he's a basket case that is only getting worse as the calendar flips. This problem child isn't learning from his bad ways.
Trust me when I say at one time I was supportive of Matheny's managing. I wouldn't quite place a "bulletproof vest for Jason Isringhausen in 2006" label on it, but somewhat close. After all, when he was handed the manager job in 2012, he had as much experience coaching a Major League team as I did: zero, zip, nada. You get the idea.
Near the midway point of the 2016 season, however, I pointed out that the tide was turning in the division and the Cardinals were no longer the hunter, instead looking more like the hunted. With Joe Maddon and Clint Hurdle putting the screws to Matheny in the playoffs over the past two offseasons, the man had a challenge. He had to adapt, improve, or be swallowed up by his own shortcomings.
Fast forward to 2017 and nothing has changed in the Cardinals dugout with Matheny. The Cardinals are 68-67 with 27 games to go, and there is no telling how it will end. Here's the truth: Matheny is losing his team games. The WAM (wins above Matheny) have reached a negative juncture.
I consider one-run games to be a true test of a manager's strength as a shot caller and in-game tactician. When the starting pitcher does just enough and the bats can't blow it out enough. In one run games, the Cardinals are a paltry 19-27. That's just bad.
Another test of a manager's strength is the record against divisional opponents. You see them the most and need to beat them the most to make the playoffs. A good portion of that falls on the manager's ability to adjust. The Cardinals are 23-32 against their division this season. That's about as good as gas station coffee at midnight.
Saturday's 2-1 loss was vintage Matheny futility. At first glance, I campaigned for Lance Lynn to go out for the ninth inning and finish what he started, but Fox Sports Midwest reporter Jim Hayes reported Lynn had a nasty blister pop up in the sixth inning. Fine.
But what about Tyler Lyons, who has been absolutely rude to opposing hitters since mid-July? Lyons had allowed opposing hitters three hits in 53 at bats since the All Star Break. THREE! He's a revelation this season, switching from part-time starter to full-time bullpen asset. He started the ninth by allowing a seeing eye single to Hunter Pence, the Bay Area Jesus. Joe Panik was out on a sacrifice bunt.
Then, Matheny decided he had seen enough of Lyons. The lefty had pitched two days in a row, so maybe it was right. But why bring him in at all? Lyons doesn't throw a lot of pitches. He threw 26 pitches combined on Thursday and Friday, so why not let him handle Buster Posey.
Posey handles lefties quite well, but I don't care. This Cardinals team has a truly dysfunctional bullpen that blows leads like I blow away cups of coffee. It's bad, so stick with Lyons.
Seung Hwan Oh came in and allowed a bloop single. Ryan Sherriff allowed a game winning home run one inning later. Game over. 2-1, Giants.
Matheny made the wrong move, but this isn't a new thing, folks. It's a common drop of the ball by a professional manager during tight games in a pennant chase. He gets out-managed so often by the other guy that it's embarrassing.
There's a reason Sports Illustrated and The Athetlic Chicago's Joe Sheehan rated Matheny last in baseball in manager rankings. "Matheny's lack of patience with young players has been detrimental" was only a parcel of the criticism that also centered on his use of players in the game and his lineup constructions. There have been 95 different lineups this year by the way, according to Baseball Reference.
Once again, this isn't new. ESPN wrote about Matheny's futility last August. This is like a roommate routinely leaving the milk on the counter overnight. It's aggravating.
The Cardinals also suffer from bad baserunning and show a lack of elite defense, especially in clutch situations. Most of these problems center around terrible fundamentals. The simple stuff that gets downloaded in college and the minors. If a manager can't help his team conquer basic fundamentals, what good is he?
Ask yourself this question: how much better would this team be under Tony La Russa or Whitey Herzog? They would be better but by how much? I'd say a wide margin.
Here's what I think: being a good manager comes from learning from failures, adapting from year to year, and mastering the in-game decisions that frequently arise. Has Matheny done any of those things?
One could say a few things in his defense. Such as "no manager wins with a bad bullpen" or "Matheny doesn't take the field and play". In isolated situations, both carry merit. But what if a manager routinely fumbles late game decisions? It's bad.
But what if John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch gave him new toys to play with at the deadline? Matheny would have messed those up too.
This is the same Matheny who used Michael Wacha in the 2014 playoff series in a do-or-die situation after three weeks of inactivity. This is the same Matheny who kept telling the pitchers to go after David Ortiz. The same guy who allowed Randy Choate to stay in a 2014 playoff game after one hitter. The same guy who threw a sick Jaime Garcia on the mound (partially Garcia's fault for informing him so late).
The same manager who wore down the arms of Trevor Rosenthal (Tommy John), Kevin Siegrist (close), Seth Maness (changing suitcases), Oh (half the pitcher he was last year), and soon to be Matt Bowman (the new Maness).
The roster needs reshuffling, but perhaps it's time to reshuffle the manager/coach deck of cards as well. After early success with La Russa leftovers, Matheny has struggled.
2014 debacle against the Giants. 2015 first-round demolition by the Cubs. Missing the playoffs in 2016. Soon to be 2017 miss?
The Cardinals are trending the wrong way at the moment. Matheny is stuck in mediocre limbo.
I used to defend the guy against hordes of Twitter fanatics. He needed more time, but now that time has run out. He is in year six and hasn't adapted or improved his managerial skills. Put him in a tight series against Maddon or Hurdle right now and Matheny gets overmatched.
How do you fix a team in peril? Start at the think tank. If the Cardinals miss the playoffs for a second straight year, I'd have no problem with Matheny losing his job.
Unlike Mozeliak, Matheny hasn't earned another season based on past accomplishments. Mo and Michael Girsch get another go-round to see if their group of toys can play and if they can make the right moves.
Will Matheny get fired? Probably not, but I've seen enough. If the Cardinals turn it around this season, it will be done despite Matheny. I never thought I'd say that, but there it is.
I feel like Sansa Stark at the end of last month's "Game of Thrones" finale. When it came to Matheny, I was a slow learner, but in the end, I learned.
Have you ever watched the show on Food Network called "Chopped"? A few chefs compete in a kitchen and one is chopped after each course due to their dish not being up to par. Imagine the same chef failing to produce a good dish yet remaining on the show. Welcome to the Cardinals in 2017 with Matheny.
Matheny is no good at his job, isn't improving, so he should be chopped.