The St. Louis Cardinals have had a great year. They finished the regular season with the best record in the National League, securing home-field through the NLDS and NLCS. They have reached the World Series and have been involved in a close, hard-fought affair with a tough opponent. The club still has a chance to pull off a world championship, as they are down 3-2 in the best of seven series.
Now, having said all that, time for the second-guessing and criticism. One has to wonder, if the Cardinals should lose on Wednesday or Thursday night, what could St. Louis manager Mike Matheny have done differently? Should Matheny have done something different with the rosters? Are there any in-game decisions that he regrets making? Should he have done something different with the batting order?
Well, I think the one thing that Matheny will get the most criticism for this World Series is placing both Edward Mujica and Shelby Miller on the roster. In the first 5 games of this series, neither has tossed a pitch. In fact, only a couple of times have they even warmed up in the bullpen. Obviously, Matheny has no confidence in Mujica to do anything but mop up. ‘Chief’ lost his closer’s job at the end of the regular season, when he was suddenly getting rocked. The Cards have been going with Trevor Rosenthal as the closer in the postseason.
In the NLDS and NLCS, Mujica only appeared in two games. He pitched the 9th inning of a Game 2 blowout loss to Pittsburgh in the NLDS. He also appeared in Game 5 of the NLCS against the Dodgers. He pitched one inning, allowing a home run to AJ Ellis in the 7th inning of a 6-4 loss for the Cardinals. Since that game, Matheny hasn’t even considered bringing in Mujica, not even to mop up Game 1 of the World Series, which the Red Sox won 8-1.
On the other hand, at least Mujica saw action in the NLCS. Miller hasn’t pitched since appearing in the 8th inning of Game 2 of the NLDS. His appearance in that game ended up indicating that Lance Lynn would be utilized as the 4th starter in that series. Lynn has obviously kept that role in the NLCS and World Series. With Lynn firmly being used as a starter, this should mean that Miller would be available out of the pen, right?
You would think, but Matheny hasn’t used him since October 4th. Not even in Game 1 of the NLCS, which went 13 innings. Instead, Lynn pitched the end of that game and went on to start Game 4. If Miller wasn’t going to be used in an extra-inning game in the NLCS, and Lynn was going to be used as the 4th starter moving forward, why even have Miller on the roster for the World Series? Was Matheny hoping to have Boston confused on whether or not Miller or Lynn would start? I figure with Miller not starting in the past month that John Farrell would know that Lynn was going to be the Game 4 option.
Ok, so who should have Matheny placed on the roster instead of Miller and/or Mujica? Well, it would seem that if you were going to leave both of these players off, you’d at least need to add another pitcher. The other options that the Cards had available to them, in terms of guys who had pitched in September and could have contributes, are pretty limited. The best names would be lefties Sam Freeman and Tyler Lyons and right-hander Fernando Salas. Salas, who at one point in the 2011 season was the Cards closer, spent much of the season in Triple-A. He was effective at times, with a 1.179 WHiP, but also gave up 3 HRs in 28 innings. Matheny would probably have had the same confidence in him as he’s had in Mujica, which is none.
Freeman, who spent most of the year in Triple-A, was very effective in limited action, posting a 2.18 ERA and 1.054 WHiP in 12.1 innings. Lyons was used as a starter off and on during the season. He posted a 4.75 ERA and 1.226 WHiP in 53 innings while striking out 43. Would a third lefty in the pen be useful? Well, it probably couldn’t have been less useful than having two pitchers you won’t utilize. And it also could have presented another option when facing David Ortiz.
Are there any better options the Cards could have used off the bench? Well, we need to be honest here. The cupboard is pretty bare for Matheny. There just isn’t much to choose from. One possibility is that Matheny could have had Adron Chambers available. Chambers was on the NLDS and NLCS rosters due to Allen Craig being hurt. Once Craig was deemed ready for the World Series, Chambers was replaced on the roster. Chambers doesn’t offer much in the way of hitting prowess (.154 in 23 games.)
Chambers is also a left-handed hitter, and the Cards have more than enough of those on their bench as it is, as Kolten Wong and Daniel Descalso are both left-handed, and Jon Jay and Matt Adams give them even more left-handed options if they don’t start due to matchups. Was there another right-handed option? Well, Tony Cruz, the backup catcher, has seen no action as a pinch hitter due to the Cards not carrying a third catcher. Rob Johnson could have been an option. Of course, Johnson did nothing with the bat during his limited time in the majors this year (.171 in 20 games.)
Even if Chambers or Johnson didn’t provide much to be excited about in terms of bench production, either could still have provided more options for Matheny than an unused pitcher. If the Cards lose the World Series, Matheny will most likely have to answer questions about his roster selections. Hopefully, he can give us all a really, really good answer. Because, from the outside looking in, it just doesn’t make much sense.