Mike Matheny on the hot seat tonight.
Here's the situation: Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals trail the San Francisco Giants 3 games to 1 and face a must win. The game is tied 3-3 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. St. Louis must hold or its season is over. And the pitcher Matheny turns to is none other than ... Michael Wacha?
Yes, Wacha was one of the postseason heroes for the Cardinals in 2013. He won the NLCS MVP award, in fact. But that was then and this is now. It's been an injury-plagued season for Wacha. He missed two and a half months with a shoulder problem, and he wasn't good enough or healthy enough to make the St. Louis postseason rotation.
Wacha hadn't pitched in a game since Sept. 26, yet there he was to start the bottom of the ninth inning with the season hanging in the balance. Four batters later, the Giants were National League champions.
In fairness, I can't say Wacha didn't look healthy. His fastball touched 98 mph on the Fox Sports 1 radar gun. However, his command was absolutely terrible, which is exactly what you would expect from a pitcher who hadn't seen the mound in nearly three weeks. That's why he shouldn't have been out there.
Pablo Sandoval led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a base hit, and the pressure was on Wacha immediately. One out later, he walked Brandon Belt on four pitches. Then, he fell behind 2-0 to San Francisco left fielder Travis Ishikawa and was forced to challenge him with a fastball. Ishikawa answered that challenge, knocking the ball over the right-field wall for a three-run homer.
Giants win, 6-3. Series over. Season over for St. Louis.
It isn't like Matheny didn't have other options. His starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright, gave him seven innings of two-run ball. Reliever Pat Neshek worked the eighth and surrendered a 3-2 lead, giving up a solo home run to pinch-hitter Michael Morse. Everyone else in the Cardinals bullpen should have been available.
Why not bring in closer Trevor Rosenthal? Or hard-throwing Carlos Martinez? A left-handed reliever such as Marco Gonzales or Randy Choate wouldn't have been a bad call in that inning, either, because Belt and Ishikawa are both left-handed hitters, and Sandoval -- a switch-hitter -- is far less dangerous when he's hitting right-handed.
If Matheny had brought in any of those four relievers, it would have been a defensible move. Instead, he went with Wacha. Terrible choice.
The San Francisco victory sets up an wild-card World Series with the Kansas City Royals. Thanks to the stupid TV networks, we have to wait until Tuesday for play to begin.
Am I the only one who thinks it stinks there won't be any baseball on this weekend?
Friday, October 17, 2014
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Renteria, 51, reportedly agreed to a three-year contract with club options for 2017 and 2018. Terms have not been disclosed.
Did the Cubs get their man?
Well, to hear Sun-Times reporter Gordon Wittenmyer tell it, Renteria was "by all accounts" the Cubs' first choice all along. Hmm.
Who is making these accounts? Wittenmyer? Cubs front office people who are trying to frame this hire in the best possible way? Steve Rosenbloom from the Tribune had a little different take on the whole thing, and I'd probably fall more in line with his opinion than Wittenmyer's.
About a month ago, Wittenmyer and everybody else who covers the Cubs reported that the team was talking with New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi "through back channels," and that Cubs brass was "poised to make an offer." That leads me to believe Girardi was the first choice, as well he should have been. The Cubs went for the home run hire and missed. It happens. But it doesn't make any sense to backtrack now and say Renteria is the guy they wanted all along. If that were the case, the Cubs could have made this hire a couple days after they fired Dale Sveum or at any other time over the last month.
Instead, they pursued Girardi. That didn't work out. The Cubs also interviewed Brad Ausmus, who ended up taking the Detroit job amid local speculation that the Tigers wanted to move quickly to prevent Ausmus from going to the Cubs. There's also strong evidence the Cubs waited until the World Series was over in hopes of interviewing Boston Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo. That request was denied by the Red Sox front office, which is still unhappy about the way Cubs president Theo Epstein left the Boston organization.
So, at best, Renteria was the Cubs' second choice. He might have been no higher than their fourth choice. All that said, this doesn't mean he is incapable of doing the job. I think experience is overrated when it comes to managers. Sure, you'd like to have a manager with experience, but it's not necessarily mandatory for success. Other guys who have never managed before have had success in their first job. Just look at St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, who has guided the Cardinals to two playoff appearances and one National League pennant in his first two years on the job.
Of course, Matheny has a number of good players on his roster. Renteria, in contrast, takes over a team with a losing clubhouse culture, with few established major league players, and with no real hope of contending in 2014. And that's really the issue at hand. It doesn't matter whether Renteria was the Cubs' first choice or their 10th choice. It doesn't matter how much experience he has, or what his reputation in the game is. Players win and lose games, and the Cubs simply have too few good players for anyone to reasonably expect Renteria to thrive in his new position.
Like Sveum before him, Renteria appears set up to fail.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
One of those head-scratching moments arose in the top of the 12th inning Friday night in St. Louis.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were tied 2-2 with the host Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS. Los Angeles outfielder Carl Crawford singled off St. Louis pitcher Lance Lynn to lead off the top of the 12th.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly then asked Mark Ellis to bunt Crawford into scoring position, which he did. But guess what? That strategy played right into the Cardinals' hands. That opened up first base and allowed St. Louis manager Mike Matheny to walk the Dodgers' No. 3 hitter, Hanley Ramirez, intentionally. Ramirez is probably the most dangerous hitter Los Angeles has. If you're the Dodgers, don't you want him to take his hacks there? The intentional walk also set up a possible double play. That's exactly what happened. Michael Young bounced into a rally-killing double play. Inning over, game still tied.
I could maybe justify the bunt if Adrian Gonzalez was still hitting in the cleanup spot, just behind Ramirez, for the Dodgers. That would have been a pick-your-poison situation for Matheny. Pitch to Ramirez? Or walk Ramirez and take your chances with Gonzalez? That would have been a tough call, but Gonzalez had been lifted for a pinch runner earlier in the game. Deciding whether to pitch to Ramirez or Young is a significantly easier call to make, and Matheny made the obvious choice. Lynn made the pitch he needed to make and got out of trouble.
St. Louis eventually won 3-2 in 13 innings on a walk-off hit by right fielder Carlos Beltran. Right now, Beltran is probably the Cardinals' best hitter. He had all three RBIs in Friday's game. He made his presence felt. Meanwhile, Ramirez didn't get his chance in the 12th inning, and it was by his manager's own folly that the bat was taken out of his hands.
Mattingly had to know Matheny was going to walk Ramirez with a base open, right? It's a manager's job to think two or three moves ahead. So, knowing that, why would Mattingly open up first base by having Ellis bunt? I don't get it.