It’s easy to say that St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny’s usage of his bullpen was the main reason that the his team lost in just five games to the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series.
In many ways, it’s a fair argument – Matheny made several questionable decisions when it came to his bullpen, and he saw the immediate results when his relievers either lost the lead or lost the game in four of the five games against the Giants. Matheny’s misuse of his bullpen was capped off by the series-winning three-run home run that Travis Ishikawa launched into the right field stands off of Michael Wacha, who entered the ninth inning of the a must-win game for the Cardinals having not pitched in over three weeks. Standing in the Cardinal bullpen just beyond first base ready to go were lefty Randy Choate (who could have faced lefties Ishikawa and shortstop Brandon Crawford) as well as righty Seth Maness (whose uncanny ability to induce double plays has been invaluable to the Cardinals the last two years). Instead, Matheny chose to stick with Wacha, who ultimately gave up the series-clinching home run.
Throw in a couple of other poor choices – leaving Choate in after walking Crawford in the tenth inning of Game 3, and Matheny’s quick hook of both Maness and All-Star Pat Neshek, and there’s no doubt that the bullpen played a large part of the untimely demise of the Cards’ World Series hopes.
But don’t pin this all on Matheny. The Cardinals offense failed to put their team in a position to win without unnecessary drama from the Matheny and the bullpen.
It’s been less than 24 hours since Koji Uehara struck out Matt Carpenter to finish off the World Series, and I want Spring Training to be here already. Unfortunately, I can’t control time, so the best we can do is wait and keep looking forward to February.
In the meantime, congratulations to the Boston Red Sox for knocking off my Cardinals 4 games to 2 for their eighth World Series title. Boston now sits alone in 4th place for most World Series championships. Looking back on the six games, it was pretty clear that the Red Sox were just the better team–they deserved the title.
Nothing against the Cardinals–they put together an outstanding season in the toughest division in baseball. However, their style of play ended up hurting them at the end, like it did during their major slumps throughout the regular season. The Cards were a single-double team that depended on timely hitting rather than home runs to drive runs in. For the most part, it worked–97 wins doesn’t happen by accident. But when a team like that encounters a pitching staff as hot as the Red Sox staff (minus Craig Breslow), it doesn’t bode well.
Throughout the regular season, St. Louis hit .330 as a team with runners in scoring position, and shattered the previous record of .311 by Detroit in 2007. During the World Series, Boston pitchers held Cardinals hitters to a .242 average in those situations. Time after time, Red Sox pitching eluded big innings by forcing weak groundouts and pop flies.
Boston’s staff also got a boost from Jon Lester, who pitched like a true ace in his two wins. Lester’s combined line: 15.1 IP, 9 hits, 1 ER (1 HR), 1 BB, 15 K, 0.65 WHIP, 0.59 ERA. Lester did this against a Cardinals lineup that hit .269 in the regular season, and against the Cardinals’ ace, Adam Wainwright, who still pitched well despite his two losses.
And who can forget about David Ortiz–the World Series MVP–who hit .688 in the six games, reaching base 19 times throughout the series. Cardinals pitchers eventually got the hint, and resorted to walking Big Papi intentionally, because every time Ortiz made contact, he hit the ball hard. It’s tough to lose when your #4 guy is on base more than 3 out of 4 plate appearances.
Some Cardinals fans have pointed the finger at Mike Matheny for his treatment of the bullpen, but I don’t think that’s fair. In Game 4, Matheny pulled starter Lance Lynn in favor of ground-ball machine Seth Maness, who promptly gave up a 3-run shot to Jonny Gomes. In Game 5, fans criticized Matheny for leaving Wainwright in too long, allowing Jacoby Ellsbury to single home another run before the inning ended. Who knows what would’ve happened if Lynn had faced Gomes, or lefty Kevin Siegrist had faced Ellsbury? Maybe we’re talking about Game 7 tonight. But I don’t think it’s fair to criticize Matheny for trusting two guys (Maness and Waino) who have gotten out of some very difficult situations this entire season, over an inconsistent Lynn and rookie Siegrist.
So in the end, Boston’s staff and lineup simply outplayed those of the Cardinals. It wasn’t a question of who wanted it more, or a question of what if? Nor was it one player or manager’s fault. The Red Sox simply deserved this championship.
If nothing else, we can at least remember this Series as one of many unique happenings:
- The umpires’ painful, albeit correct decision to overturn the “out” call at 2nd base in the first inning of Game 1, allowing the Red Sox to load the bases with one out rather than have runners on the corners with two outs. Mike Napoli later cleared the bases with a double.
- Uehara picking off pinch-runner Kolten Wong to end Game 4 and knot the series at 2-2. Poor Wong–he’s a good player, and he’ll rebound from that.
- Most bizarre of all, the walk-off obstruction call to end Game 3. We may never see that end another game, let alone a World Series game–for years to come.
I’ll be back to run down some offseason plans for a few teams, and to look forward to next season. But for now, I offer the words of Rogers Hornsby:
People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.
Until 2014, baseball.