If not for St. Louis’ offensive explosion in Game Two, every writer and columnist covering the sport would be writing about Mike Matheny’s arrival as a fearless, big-game manager.
Matheny’s game-defining decision came in the second inning. His starter, Jaime Garcia, had labored through the first two innings, throwing 51 pitches and issuing three walks. Garcia’s spot in the order was due, but there were runners at the corners and one out in a one-run game. Matheny knew about Garcia’s wildness—his sinker kept missing the zone low—as well as his declining velocity (and apparently his sore shoulder), and he decided to take the opportunity to get him out of the game and go for the gusto. He inserted Skip Schumaker as a pinch-hitter, and Schumaker hit into a fielder’s choice that pushed the lead to two runs. The Cardinals would add one more to make it a three-run game heading into the third inning.
By removing Garcia, Matheny entered into a seven-inning bullpen game. In a sense, Matheny managed Game Two like a do-or-die game; in a way it was, since falling behind by two games in a best-of-five series makes elimination a near certainty. Rather than go down by watching a sinking starter capsize, Matheny figured he’d take his best shot by throwing Lance Lynn into the game. At worst, Matheny would tax his bullpen, worth the risk with a restorative off-day approaching on Tuesday. Lynn did his job, though, throwing three innings and allowing two runs.
Matheny’s aggressiveness with Lynn is becoming a staple of this postseason. In the wild card game, Matheny called upon Lynn to retire David Ross, who represented the tying run. In Game One, Matheny asked Lynn to end a two-on, two-out situation; Lynn did, though not until after he issued a four-pitch walk to begin his appearance. The burly righty gained popularity last postseason and should increase his Q Rating if the Cardinals make another deep run. At this rate, Matheny will too.
- If Garcia is unable to go, the Cardinals would have to decide between starting Lynn, Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, or Shelby Miller should they advance.
- That Cardinals offense, by the way, scored 12 runs on 13 hits, including four home runs. Five Cardinals had multi-hit games—Carlos Beltran had a multi-homer game—and the only starter without a hit was Matt Holliday.
- Go to a jazz club with me, Jon Jay. Not only did Jay have a two-hit day, but he also made a fantastic jumping catch at the wall.
- Any player who advances two bases on a ball that never leaves the infield merits a mention. In this case, that means you, Pete Kozma. Kozma went first-to-third on a bunt that went maybe 45 feet down the first base line. On the next play, he scored from third on an error.
- Through two games, neither Gio Gonzalez nor Jordan Zimmermann has impressed for the Nationals. Edwin Jackson is the next man up as the series shifts to Washington. His Game Three opponent on Wednesday will be Chris Carpenter.
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It may seem that the division title came easily to Nats fans, but really how often does any team enter the playoffs assured of home field for as long as they're winning? While mostly healthy? They could play really well for the next six seasons and not have this kind of advantage going into the playoffs.
I understand why they did what they did, but we'll never know if it cost us a shot at the title. Unless these four guys get it done.