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I’m blaming this one on Mike Matheny

Sep 15, 2012, 2:09 AM EDT

Mike Matheny Getty Images

The Cardinals were up 4-3 on the Dodgers with right-handed starter Joe Kelly weakening in the bottom the fifth inning tonight. With a man on first and the left-handed-hitting Andre Ethier on deck, I think it had already been decided that he was facing his last batter when Shane Victorino flied out to left to the end the frame. Left-hander Sam Freeman was ready to go in the pen.

A funny thing happened afterwards, though. When Kelly was replaced to start the bottom of the sixth, it was by Trevor Rosenthal, not Freeman.

The game quickly went south. Ethier singled to start the inning. Rosenthal bounced back to retire Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez, but he then hit Hanley Ramirez with a pitch. Mike Matheny came out to make the change to another right-hander, calling in ex-Marlin Edward Mujica. Mujica, the most homer-prone reliever in the pen, promptly gave up a three-run shot to Luis Cruz, a guy who hadn’t had an extra-base hit in three weeks.

The Cardinals went on to lose 8-5. Freeman eventually got into a game, retiring Ethier (but allowing a walk and a single to the other two batters he faced) in the seventh.

I imagine the Matheny figured out tonight what NL West managers have already learned; when you have the chance to bring in a lefty to face Ethier, you do it. I’m sure Matheny has confidence in Rosenthal’s ability to get out lefties — he’s done a terrific job of it in his limited action in the majors — but Ethier is just brutal against lefty specialists.

My problem with it is that Matheny didn’t see Ethier leading off the sixth inning in a one-run game as being a big situation. Ethier up with two on and two outs in the fifth? That was big, in Matheny’s opinion, and would have required Freeman’s usage. However, Ethier with no outs in the sixth is awfully big too, particularly now that he’s hitting second and being followed by Kemp, Gonzalez and Ramirez. Matheny chose to save Freeman for a more crucial situation that didn’t materialize.

(There is one other thing worth mentioning here; the Cardinals are currently going with just two left-handed relievers, even though it’s September. That certainly wouldn’t have flown back in Tony La Russa’s day.)

Anyway, the Cardinals still have their one-game lead in the wild card, courtesy of Thursday’s series-opening victory. They get to face the struggling Joe Blanton on Saturday and no one knows if Clayton Kershaw (hip) is going to be ready to pitch Sunday. They’re still in a pretty good spot.

A couple of other thoughts from the game:

Yadier Molina was terrific. He homered, picked off Nick Punto at first base (though it looked like Punto avoided the tag long enough to get his hand on the bag) and worked a 12-pitch walk. I though the walk off Stawn Tolleson was most impressive of all. However, it was immediately followed by David Freese grounded the first pitch he saw to second for a double play.

– Gonzalez seems to be heating up for the Dodgers. He entered with a .233 average 17 strikeouts in 18 games for the Dodgers, but he connected on two doubles tonight. In fact, his last four hits have been doubles.

– I thought Lance Lynn was quite a bit more impressive in his spot start Thursday than Kelly was tonight. The plan appears to be for Lynn to return to the pen with Chris Carpenter coming off the DL next week. but I’d take my chances with him over Kelly right now. Maybe the relief stint allowed him to recharge his batteries after a rough August.

  1. fearlessleader - Sep 15, 2012 at 3:22 AM

    We agree on a couple of things here: 1) This game sucked in a thousand different ways for the Cards, and 2) Mike Matheny still has a lot to learn as a manager.

    But the specifics of your analysis don’t quite match up with reality. To wit:

    * Mujica is the most homer-prone reliever on the team? Well, sort of, if you count his stats as a Marlin. But before tonight, he had allowed exactly zero homers in 20 appearances as a Cardinal. In fact, until a few days ago, he hadn’t even allowed a run since being traded to St. Louis.

    * Sam Freeman has terrific potential, but to suggest that he’s the obvious go-to LOOGY against Ethier is….well, premature, to put it diplomatically. Lefties have hit better against Freeman than righties in his very limited time in the bigs, and, as his appearance later in the game demonstrated, he’s still got control issues. Rosenthal has significantly better numbers against left-handed hitters in roughly the same amount of at-bats.

    Matheny drives me wild much of the time, but I think the blame tonight has to be shared, at least, with the guys in the bullpen for failing to get outs….and with John Mozeliak in the front office for failing to get this team a legitimate lefty reliever to back up the once-sharp, now-woefully-ineffective Mark Rzepczynski. (Frankly, I’m more irritated at Mike for double-switching one of the only guys on the team who’s hitting consistently right now—Matt Carpenter—out of the game in favor of Daniel Descalso…..)

    • dondada10 - Sep 15, 2012 at 6:45 AM

      Wait, so you mean to tell me that Pouliot wrote a negative article about the Cards, and it wasn’t accurate?


    • okwhitefalcon - Sep 15, 2012 at 12:04 PM

      Blogger/former soccer “player” (cough, cough) and redfiner of the word “choke” gone wild alert.

      Again, you make this too easy blogger.

      • Matthew Pouliot - Sep 15, 2012 at 1:05 PM

        Exactly what am I making easy? You’ve just sat back and sniped without making a valid criticism of any of my Cardinals blogs, and your insults pale in comparison to some of those your fellow fans have whipped up. Your game needs a lot of work, bud.

      • okwhitefalcon - Sep 15, 2012 at 4:10 PM

        What have you made easy?

        “Sniping” holes in your “blogs” and providing “valid criticism” of them with actual facts to back up my opinion of them, that’s what “bud”.

        Again, hanging curveball – or in understandable terms – I’ll “bend it like Beckham” for you.

        1. Trolling twitter for alternate words for “douche” while describing your view of the Cards and Jake Westbrook after the hit on Molina. That’s baseball “bud”, sometimes it polices itself without direct action from the actual “Bud”.

        2. Calling for Westbrook’s immediate suspension after said “offense” mentioned above, still waiting for that one to come down from “Bud’s” office by the way…
        I’ll explain this in terms that may be more in the realm for you, the umps issued a “yellow card” directly afterward – no “red card’ or excessive penalty from “Bud” was necessary.

        3. Redefining the word “choke” in order to validate your failed premise on Molina’s sacrifice. That’s just bad journa…um, “blogging”. He executed a strategic play to perfection which strategy you did not agree with so you (mis)labled him with a derogatory term made even more silly by the “I missed a few open nets” analogy and going as far as calling Molina’s play the “choke of the year”.

        As for the Matheny entry above, it seems my felow poster’s have “sniped” enough holes in it to suffice.

        As far as my “game” is concerned, I’m not in competition with what my “fellow fans have whipped up” so I’ll dismiss your “snipe” with the same proficiency I do your “blogs”.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Sep 15, 2012 at 1:03 PM

      Mujica’s homer-proneness dates way back, but I agree with everything else you here. Thanks for the post.

    • schlom - Sep 15, 2012 at 1:13 PM

      “Mujica is the most homer-prone reliever on the team? Well, sort of, if you count his stats as a Marlin. But before tonight, he had allowed exactly zero homers in 20 appearances as a Cardinal. In fact, until a few days ago, he hadn’t even allowed a run since being traded to St. Louis.”

      That might be the most classic Cardinal fanboy statement ever written on HBT. So what if he’s been terrible at giving up HR his entire career? He hasn’t given up a single one in his 19 innings for the Cards!

      • fearlessleader - Sep 15, 2012 at 3:21 PM

        Hi, Schlom—

        Well, first of all, I’m certainly a fan, but I’m not a boy.

        Second, if your position is that you’d go with the untested recent call-up who’s prone to wildness over the experienced guy who’s been in absolute lockdown mode for the last six weeks, then I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree.


  2. verytalldad - Sep 15, 2012 at 3:35 AM

    I thought HBT only blamed Mike Rizzo for things.

  3. dan1111 - Sep 15, 2012 at 6:43 AM

    I have to say, I don’t see it:

    1) The Cardinals don’t exactly have an impressive bullpen, so using up a pitcher on one batter in the sixth seems questionable. Doing so could have easily come back to bite them.

    2) Ethier batting with the bases empty and no outs really isn’t that important of a situation. Ethier and the Dodgers’ other big lefty Gonzalez were going to have a few more at-bats in the game between them. It was quite likely that one of those at-bats would be more important than this one.

    3) Again, their bullpen is not very good. In a game that requires four innings of relief, Matheny is going to have to bring in some questionable pitchers, and he would be open to the same criticisms you are making no matter what order he chose to bring those pitchers in. In particular, Mujica may be “the most homer prone”, but he is also the only pitcher outside Motte and Boggs who has any track record of success in the majors. He is at least their third-best reliever. It makes sense to put him in a key situation in the early innings.

  4. charlutes - Sep 15, 2012 at 7:21 AM

    Mathew, gimmie a break. You act like a skilled manager because u can find one tiny at bat to criticize. All your doing is selectively using hindsight to give u something to write about. I guess randomly hating on Jays players got old.

  5. paperlions - Sep 15, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    Sometimes, team lose because the other team beats you….just sayin’.

    The Cardinals have very few solid bullpen options, and NO good lefty options. With 4 innings for the bullpen to cover, there was going to be at least 1 or 2, “oh god, no….not him” moments as guys trotted in from the bullpen.” It seems like Freeman walks 2 guys every time he comes in (he doesn’t, but he does walk a lot of guys)…I dread every time he comes in if the game is close at all…seems like he’s in 2-0 counts his entire appearance.

  6. only1stantheman - Sep 15, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    Honestly, MP, this is turning into a monday morning quarterback blog(at least your posts). It’s getting ridiculous. Also, why are there constantly typos in these posts? I have always seen them, but wouldn’t mention it, but since I’m here.. Do you guys have an editor? Do you edit each other? Spell check can only help if it is a misspelled word, not if it is the wrong word. It’s never a bigger mistake than replacing “that” with “the” but damn does it take away from the writing. Seriously, you are supposed to be professional writers.

  7. pullinteeth - Sep 15, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    Oh Matthew… I’ve been waiting to rip you a new one since that childish post about Molina choking. He is such a clutch player and you have no right to write negative crap like that. He is such a valuable asset. BUT… to the point.

    Matthew Pouliot:
    (There is one other thing worth mentioning here; the Cardinals are currently going with just two left-handed relievers, even though it’s September. That certainly wouldn’t have flown back in Tony La Russa’s day.)

    Last year the only left handed relievers on the team were (per my recollection): Brian Tallet, Scrabble, Trevor Miller, Arthur Rhodes

    Tallet and Trevor Miller were traded to the Blue Jays during the huge Rasmus trade the last week of July 2011.

    During all of August, September, and during the world Series, the only Left Handed Relievers (Garcia is a starter) were Mark Scrabble Rzepcyzinski (I know i misspelled the hell out of that but come on. Thats why we call him Scrabble) and Arthur Rhodes. That is TWO LEFT HANDED RELIEVERS ALL THROUGH AUGUST SEPTEMBER AND WORLD SERIES.

    Trevor Miller was our most dependable Left Handed specialist in 2010 and most of 2011 but thank God Arthur Rhodes had some magic left in that old arm and Scrabble pitched way better than he has in 2012 and the rest is history… a World Series title from a team that most didn’t think had it in them to win.

    I am fed up with Mike Matheny and his love affair with Daniel Descalso as much as anyone. Especially when he was hitting him over Shumaker when shumaker was batting about 95 points more than him. I blame quite a few losses on Matheny and his inexperience (and arrogance) this year.

    HOWEVER, when you say that having only 2 left handed reliever specialists in September is something that LaRussa would never let fly… you should research it first. Because he had the same situation… as recently as last year during the championship run.

    Granted I am a young dentist, which gives me a lot less credence to write my opinions about baseball on the internet that you. But you have been on a streak of EPIC FAILS the last week. I suggest you stop trying to sound cool and writing controversial headlines to get clicks… and try getting back to writing original thoughtful commentary that we all can enjoy.

    Especially the venom you spew about the Cardinals… because you hate on them so much you can’t even check your facts or grammer before you hit the post button due to you eagerness to burn them. Well… keep it up and all of us readers will just keep burning you.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Sep 15, 2012 at 1:11 PM

      Good stuff… I deserved to be called out on that.

      And yet I still think that La Russa would have insisted on more help. The Cards’ have four left-handed relievers on the 40-man, yet two of them were just left at Memphis after the season ended. I wouldn’t have a lot of faith in Browning or Gaub, but I’d still rather throw one of those two at Ethier than any of the team’s right-handed middle men.

      • saints97 - Sep 15, 2012 at 3:07 PM

        I give Matthew a lot of grief (lately, anyway), but I agree with his point that Browning would have been ideal to face Ethier there. I don’t think this is some grievous mistake by Matheny, but keeping an extra left around, when there is a decent one totally available, seems like a no-brainer.

        But, as someone else said, sometimes you lose because the other team beats you. Props to the Dodgers for stepping up and winning a big game.

        Remember the name Trevor Rosenthal, though. That kid is going to be a good one.

      • pullinteeth - Sep 15, 2012 at 3:17 PM

        Wow… I didn’t expect a reply. But u earned some points back with me. I read HBT religiously yet I only comment maybe once a season. If I didn’t find good content here I wouldn’t be reading it daily. The mere fact that I am writing this shows that I find value in your commentary.

        U are gonna piss in someone’s Cheerios every day no matter what u write. I think u are a good writer man. As long as u realize when u jump the gun with a knee jerk reaction (like the molina choke story) u are an ok dude in my book. God knows I learn something every day in my profession. Humble pie is a very nutritious meal that can help u grow big and strong in many different ways.

        Thanks for the reply, I actually agree with your follow up post. Mike Matheny needs to utilize the talent he is surrounded with much more efficiently. Look at the top 8 hitters for st Louis and I honestly think Matheny should have squeezed out more wins than he has. But hey… He is learning too just like us. Let’s just hope he eats his humble pie instead of a Blame Everyone Else Burger as this season winds down.

        I still want to pull all his teeth sometimes.

  8. norcaldeportes - Sep 15, 2012 at 11:57 AM

    Less Cardinals. More Giants.

  9. stex52 - Sep 15, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    I will keep beating this drum. Every guy at the MLB level is getting paid 480M$ (at least) to play there. You can very occasionally call out a manager for really bad moves. But, in the end, if circumstances require him to make a move that appears against the odds, that doesn’t give the player carte blanche to screw it up. They are paying those guys to play. The manager exists to:
    1. Keep the team from turning into the Red Sox.
    2. Fill out the lineup card (he has help)
    3. Not wear out the relief staff (he has help)
    4. Get thrown out occasionally to prove he really loves the guys.

    Othewise, the players win and lose the games.

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