keyboard_arrow_uptop

It took Carlos Martinez 56 pitches to get his first nine outs Saturday night. The Padres put runners in scoring position in each of the first three frames, but went 0-for-6 once those runners got there. Despite giving up two doubles and a single, walking one batter, and hitting another, Martinez was keeping the Cardinals in the game. It looked like it might be another good night for the particular brand of magic that has become the team’s signature this season.

Alas, in the fourth inning, Martinez proved human. Derek Norris led off with a triple, and although it took three more batters (an infield single, then a sacrifice bunt from the opposing pitcher on which Norris held at third, then an RBI ground out), the Padres pushed across a run. Martinez got a bit more pitch-efficient, though, and would continue that through two more innings, both blessedly traffic-free.

Unfortunately for St. Louis, they didn’t score at all in the interim. An offense gutted by the losses of Randal Grichuk, Matt Holliday, and Matt Adams is starting to show signs of slowing down, and on Saturday night, that took the form of an Ian Kennedy shutout through six. Matt Carpenter was thrown out of the game for arguing a called third strike in the fifth inning. Nothing was going the Cardinals’ way.

Then, to lead off the seventh, Brandon Moss doubled, setting up a potential Cards rally, and, as it turned out, one of the worst managerial sequences of the season to date. Tommy Pham followed Moss with a single, but Moss was unable to score on the play. With runners on the corners and no one out, Martinez’s spot in the order was due. At that point, anticipating a move, Padres manager Pat Murphy relieved Kennedy, calling upon Shawn Kelley to get out whomever Mike Matheny selected to pinch-hit.

On a slightly different night, maybe Matheny would have made a move. Had Carpenter not been tossed, Kolten Wong would still have been on the bench, and Matheny might have felt more obligated to go to him. If Carpenter had started at third base, with Wong at second, Mark Reynolds or Brandon Moss would have been on the bench, and the experience of either would have provided Matheny with some temptation. He certainly didn’t feel any obligation to go to Peter Bourjos, Tony Cruz, or Pete Kozma, though. He proved that by allowing Martinez (at 90 pitches and 26 batters faced already, but pitching well) to hit for himself. That ended exactly as well as you would expect it to, with Kelley (who has allowed a .534 OPS to right-handed batters this season) on the mound and a right-hitting pitcher at the dish. Murphy then went to Mark Rzepczynski to face Wong (swinging strikeout) and Bud Norris to face Stephen Piscotty (strikeout looking). Like that, the Cardinals’ rally evaporated. By the time they even got a chance to mount another one, they would trail by eight runs, instead of one.

Good managers play to win the game in front of them, and consider the long term only when they have that luxury. On Saturday night, Matheny was doing something else, although it’s not clear that his decision was even a trade of present win probability for future. Instead, it seems like he simply laid a mental egg at a crucial juncture, and he probably cost his team any chance of winning an important (because they all are) game. Matheny’s failure is punctuated by the urgency his counterpart showed in that situation. Murphy used three relievers to navigate that single inning; Matheny refused even to spare a pinch-hitter.

The Cardinals’ bullpen was fresh that night. Here is their depth chart, with their pitches thrown over each of the five days prior to Saturday:

Cardinals Relief Pitchers, Pitches Thrown by Day, Aug. 17-21

Pitcher

Aug. 17

Aug. 18

Aug. 19

Aug. 20

Aug. 21

T. Rosenthal

16

X

10

X

X

K. Siegrist

10

X

23

X

X

S. Cishek

X

17

10

X

X

J. Broxton

X

X

X

X

24

S. Maness

X

5

X

X

X

R. Choate

X

2

X

X

4

C. Villanueva

X

x

X

X

22

T. Lyons

X

16

X

X

X

There was no reason Matheny needed to keep Martinez in for the sake of the team, then, even with a week left on the team’s West Coast road trip. That was reinforced when the team optioned Lyons on Sunday in favor of an extra position player on the bench, Greg Garcia.

Martinez certainly could use an early hook or two, if the Cardinals hope to have him around (let alone at full strength) come October. He’d never faced even 500 batters in a season before, but this year, he’s up to 624. The Cardinals have given no indication that they might shut Martinez down, and that’s the right move, but if they’re going to expect him to contribute to their playoff run, they need to save an inning here and a start there, and still Matheny allowed Martinez to bat for himself, and still he let him face (though not retire) two batters in the seventh. (Even in a perfect world, Matheny was setting Martinez up to see the top of the Padres’ order for a fourth time in a tied or very close game.)

Perhaps, in some cruelly twisted calculus, Matheny was trying to get his young starter a win in a game he trailed 1-0 at the time. Ignoring, for a moment, that that statistic is useless and that making decisions based on it is an actionably terrible protocol, there remains this: The best chance Martinez had to get a win that night was being pinch-hit for there and seeing the rally Brandon Moss started bloom into a real comeback.

No, there’s no angle from which one can look at the decisions Matheny made in the seventh inning Saturday night and see anything but a colossal failure of managerial judgment, an utter lack of killer instinct. He had a chance to make a simple move and help his team complete a critical rally, and he blew it. Players still make plays, and the ones who made the plays in the top of the seventh inning on Saturday were the Padres’ pitchers. One can’t help wondering, though, whether the outcome would have been the same if that first fight had been fairer. The Cardinals may have some otherworldly magic on their side, but for as long as Matheny is the guy waving the wand, they’re not guaranteed anything. When they reach the playoffs, Matheny’s poor tactical skills are going to be an even more glaring weakness than they already are, and in the meantime, they’re losing the comfortable cushion they had built over the Pirates and Cubs. If they ultimately find themselves in a one-game playoff for their lives, instead of cruising into the NLDS with a rested rotation, and if they miss winning the division by one single game, this might be one they remember for a while.

You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
mdthomp
8/24
I've been saying this for a long time. He's one of the worst "tactical" managers in the game. (Maybe I should say strategic) but you get the point. He seems to be great at running a clubhouse though, so I guess you have to weigh those two things and decide if he's worth it. I'm a huge Cardinals fan, but willingly employing him and allowing him to make all of these decisions in game shows me that the front office must not be as smart as we all give them credit for. (Inexperienced bench coach doesn't help). I know that this is probably an overreaction but he is bad. I have the opinion that managers don't actually matter that much in the scheme of things, but he has shown time and time again that a bad manager can actually hurt you quite a bit.
Tarakas
8/24
He is bad tactically. In his defense, however: 1. He had no decent pinch hitting options. While any of them would be an upgrade over Martinez, none are very appealing. Who would he go with? Bourjos has been very cold lately (.077 in the second half) and says he does not feel right at the plate. Kozma is hitting .157 for the year, and Cruz .179. Collectively, they are hitting .109 in the second half. I don't normally use batting average, but these are terrible. Martinez has hit .167 for this career. Do I think Carlos Martinez is actually a better hitter than any of the three? No. But I am not clear how much better a rusty Kozma or Bourjos is right now. 2. His bullpen has been worked very hard over the course of the year. He is under pressure to use some of his relievers less. I think to some extent one problem here is the extremely weak bench that the team has, leaving with Matheny little in the way of options. It speaks volumes that Garcia was brought up after this.
mdthomp
8/24
Completely agree. The bench that day was thin with Carpenter getting ejected and the triumvirate of terrible from the right side being the only ones available. It wasn't mentioned in the article but Martinez also already had 2 hits that day (Not that that should matter one bit, but with Matheny it probably did). In this situation however you don't even need a hit. I bring in Bourjos and make a double switch (Piscotty or Pham was hitting 2nd) if i have to but you absolutely have to make a move. It'll be interesting to see what Matheny does in the NLDS if the Cardinals get there. Roster should be getting guys like Holliday/Adams/Grichuk/Jay back according to everything I've read. It'll be nice to have legit threats on the bench for once.
Tarakas
8/24
I understand we are talking small sample sizes, but in Kozma and Cruz's case, they have a career of weak hitting. All three are rusty, which is not helping them. Then there is the "pinch hitting" penalty.
onegameref
8/24
Wouldn't a strong bench coach have given him some better advice in this situation? He is still a relatively inexperienced manager and would seem to benefit from a seasoned bench jockey to help him through exactly these kinds of situations. Who does he have as his right hand man?
matrueblood
8/25
He's been on the job three and a half years, been to the NLCS three times, been handed the keys to an exceptionally talented team with multiple All-Stars. Inexperience is definitely not an excuse or a defense. I believe his bench coach is David Bell.
mdthomp
8/25
Yes. David Bell indeed. Mike Aldrete moved on to Oakland this year.

Baseball Prospectus uses cookies on this website. They help us to understand how you use our website, which allows us to provide an improved browsing experience. Cookies are stored locally on your computer or mobile device and not by BP. To accept cookies continue browsing as normal. You will see this message only once. Privacy Policy

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. See the BP Cookie Policy for more information. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close