With a bullpen as rested as it’s ever going to be in the first game back after the All-Star Break and a 5-1 lead late, it looked like the St. Louis Cardinals were in pretty good position Friday night.
But a contest in which lefty hurler Jaime Garcia turned in a pretty good start and the offense supplied plenty of firepower in the absence of its two most productive hitters quickly turned into a disaster thanks to a large dose of shoddy defense and a series of baffling managerial decisions.
Garcia allowed only one run through five innings. After being greeted with a lead-off double in the sixth, he got out of that frame ahead 4-2. He gave up another lead-off hit in the seventh when the defense let him down by failing to complete a double play that could have made it two outs and no one on. Garcia then gave up another hit and suddenly the tying run was on base.
So… With a completely fresh bullpen — complete with Kevin Siegrist off the disabled list after a bout with mono — and a game in the balance, what was skipper Mike Matheny to do?
Naturally, it was to bring in deposed closer Trevor Rosenthal who over the last month has allowed 15 hits in 8 1/3 innings of work. He’s walked five and hit two by pitches in that same span, allowing 2.4 baserunners per inning. So, we’ve got a guy who on paper gives up .8 runners per our coming into the game with the tying runner on and one down.
Is it any surprise at all that Rosenthal walked the bases loaded and then hit the Giancarlo Stanton with a pitch to push a run across, then gave up a hit to give the Marlins a one-run lead? He had serious problems not getting himself into trouble when he came into a game with no one on base. Putting him into a spot where there was no margin for error was truly ridiculous.
In short, it was not only terrible management of the game. It was also a terrible way to manage a damaged player. Rosenthal, who six weeks ago was one of the best closers in the game, had to walk off the field to a chorus of boos. Next stop, Class AAA Memphis?
I’ve always thought of Matheny as a Red Schoendienst style manager. He’s great at keeping his veterans happy and he’s not going to do anything unorthadox to keep his star players from doing their thing. But where Matheny and the Cardinals Hall of Fame skipper split is on the issue of developing young players. Matheny’s track record says he is simply not that good at it. It’s not just Rosenthal, who has terribly underachieved at times under Matheny. He seems to have destroyed the confidence of Kolten Wong and to a lesser extent Randal Grichuk. Let’s not forget that he took the most hyped young player since Albert Pujols, Oscar Taveras, and turned him into a bench jockey during a playoff run. Who knows how that would have worked out had Taveras not met his terribly unfortunate and untimely demise. But, at the time, talk was that the Redbirds should trade him before he became a total bust and had no value. Whatever it is that happened to Allen Craig also happened on Matheny’s watch. A .300 hitter who was one of the best guys in the clutch in recent baseball history was turned to goo and never recovered.
What a waste.
It’s my understanding that the young players complain privately that they’re afraid if they don’t go 3-for-4 with a homer that Matheny’s going to bench them the next day. So every at-bat gets into their head.
Sure, there have been some young players who have succeeded in the Matheny era. Carlos Martinez, for one. Aledmys Diaz. Stephen Piscotty. But there are too many guys who have suddenly and strangely fallen off. In addition to the players already named, add Matt Adams and once unbeatable hurler Michael Wacha who seems to have lost his swagger and become too ordinary of a player for his level of talent. Given that they steadfastly refused to spend any money on significant help over the offseason, the Cardinals saddled Matheny with a roster of players he is least prepared to handle.
I’m not sure what the Cardinals can do at this point to reclaim Rosenthal, a player who I truly like and would hate to lose. They can send him to Memphis. But it’s going to be the Rick Ankiel deal: He can pitch there for a year and be stellar. But as soon as the bright lights are on him in the big city, things are going to be different and the first time he gets to a 3-0 count on the lead-off man, people are going to say “here we go again.”
I don’t know if Rosey will ever get his confidence back after this.
The mess that has been made of the closer role directly contributed to the loss Friday night. The guy who should have been in the game to slam the door in the seventh was Seung Hwan Oh, who was hired to do that job. In the seventh inning, Oh has an .078 batting average against. But in ninth-inning save situations, he has struggled in ways we haven’t previously seen.
I don’t want to lay this all at the feet of the skipper. It has bothered me all year that Cardinals pitchers seem to constantly struggle with problems described as mechanical issues. Adam Wainwright hasn’t looked like himself much this year. Wacha has been inconsistent. Mike Leake has been disappointing. Rosenthal, Seth Maness, Jonathan Broxton … at what point is the pitching coach responsible for not being able to work out these problems?
The Redbirds, at this point, seem to have little choice but to try to find an impact arm for the back of the bullpen. A player who would not only give some stability in the late innings. But one who would push the other players back into their planned roles. And I would love to see top prospect Alex Reyes come up to help out. But I’m afraid if he does that he’ll become another tremendous talent who was destroyed after arrival in St. Louis.