Posted on: November 13, 2011 6:09 pm
Edited on: November 13, 2011 6:50 pm
The Cardinals on Sunday named former big league catcher Mike Matheny as their new manager and will formally introduce him in a news conference on Monday morning in St. Louis.
Presumably, they've already handed Matheny a guidebook blueprint for replacing an all-time legend (Tony La Russa), taking over a World Series champion as a rookie skipper and making a managerial debut in the big leagues -- not in the minor leagues.
The truth? The only way Matheny's debut job could be any more difficult is if the club loses icon Albert Pujols via free agency.
Wait, hold that thought!
While Pujols was being wined and dined by the Miami Marlins over the weekend, the Cardinals whittled their short list of La Russa replacements to a final one.
The contrast between him and La Russa could not be more stark:
La Russa managed more games than any manager in major-league history after Connie Mack.
Matheny, 40, spent part of last season as a roving minor-league instructor for the Cardinals, and part of it in the St. Louis broadcast booth. He has never been a manager.
He has, however, managed games from behind the plate as a catcher for 13 years in Milwaukee, Toronto, St. Louis and San Francisco. He spent five years behind the plate for La Russa's Cardinals, from 2000-2004, and during that time forged a solid relationship and earned a tremendous amount of respect from La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan.
How much? As Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote earlier this month, La Russa once described Matheny "as the only big-league ballplayer he'd let one of his daughters marry." As Strauss noted then, the fact that the Cardinals would consider allowing Matheny to become their next manager might be nearly as impressive.
Matheny was said by industry sources to have been very impressive when he went through the Cardinal interview process earlier this month. That surely came as no surprise to general manager John Mozeliak and the club, given that Matheny was a clubhouse leader during his time in St. Louis whose leadership qualities were unquestioned.
That, and Matheny's familiarity with the Cardinals organization are the qualities that the club hopes make for a smooth transition. As a player, his attention to detail was evident, among many other areas, in the four Gold Gloves he won -- three of them while wearing a Cardinals uniform. He also helped mentor a young Yadier Molina, a relationship that should grow further and work as one of St. Louis' strengths in 2012.
One key for an inexperienced manager is his staff, and with Duncan expected to return, Matheny will have the game's most respected pitching coach at his right hand.
Another important hire will be Matheny's bench coach, presumably a veteran man with managerial experience. Colleague Danny Knobler is hearing that former Red Sox and Dodgers manager Grady Little is a possibility to join Matheny in St. Louis.
Matheny was chosen ahead of five other candidates: Terry Francona, who most recently managed the Red Sox; Chris Maloney, who managed St. Louis' Triple-A affiliate in Memphis last year; Ryne Sandberg, the Hall of Famer and former Cubs star who managed Philadelphia's Triple-A affiliate; Joe McEwing, who managed the White Sox Triple-A affiliate, and Jose Oquendo, the Cardinals' third-base coach.
Posted on: October 16, 2011 11:51 pm
MILWAUKEE -- If the St. Louis Cardinals' starters pitch this lousy in the World Series ... why, they just might stand a puncher's chance against the Texas Rangers.
Go figure. Tony La Russa burned through 28 pitching changes over six games, using 34 total pitchers ... and his was the team that won. St. Louis burned through the Brewers one more time, 12-6, to seize this NL Championship Series.
And this whole "Happy Flight" thing has gotten quite out of control as the Cardinals streaked to their 22nd win in their past 31 games: They've now won 17 consecutive games leading into a flight this season. And their post-Game 6 flight was the happiest of all: It took them home, and straight into the World Series.
Who would have figured this? The Cardinals were 10 1/2 games out of the wild-card slot in late August, and 8 1/2 out on Sept. 6. Then the Braves started losing, the Cardinals started winning and who knows when it will end?
Ace Chris Carpenter seemed gassed after his beautiful Game 5 classic over Roy Halladay in Philadelphia, but it didn't matter. Edwin Jackson? Lasted two innings in Game 6, but it didn't matter. Jaime Garcia? Kyle Lohse? Neither was sharp but ... you got it. Just didn't matter.
The Cardinals clearly were the better team, and right now it's looking like their TKO of the Phillies was no fluke. The Cardinals led the NL in on-base percentage this season for the first time since 2003, and they're only getting better.
And this was more than Albert Pujols, who flexed for five RBIs in Game 2. This was David Freese's coming out party. With Matt Holliday nursing a sore hand, Freese was unstoppable. In running his postseason hitting streak to nine games, he batted .459 (17 for 37) with five doubles, four homers and 14 RBI. In the six-game NLCS, Freese rolled out the barrel on the Brewers to the tune of a.545 (12 for 22) average with three homers and nine RBIs.
But despite all this, the real stars were those odd-named (Mark Rzepcynski), bespectacled and bearded (Jason Motte), Ryan Braun-killing (Octavio Dotel, who whiffed the Brewers outfielder again Sunday and now has struck him out in nine of 11 career at-bats) and old men (Arthur Rhodes) in the bullpen.
The six consecutive games in which a starting pitcher failed to work into the sixth inning is the longest such postseason streak in St. Louis history.
Normally, that's a recipe for disaster. But with La Russa mixing matchups more expertly than a master bartender mixes drinks, it suddenly wasn't. Time after time, La Russa was able to get Dotel to trump Braun, or the lefty Rzepcynski to face the left-handed Fielder.
Against a Texas lineup that is deeper than most in the National League, La Russa and the bullpen will have their work cut out for them. But if you're going to bet against this club after the month they've put together, well, that's on you.
Posted on: October 15, 2011 6:43 pm
MILWAUKEE -- This NL Championship Series simply cannot end on Sunday, in Game 6, without the Cardinals and Brewers extending it to Game 7, can it?
Until St. Louis blasted the Brewers in Game 5, the two teams for the year (including this series) were 11-11 against each other. Total runs were almost as close: Milwaukee was edging St. Louis 90-88.
Now, the Cardinals lead the series 12-11 and have outscored the Brewers 95-91.
The teams went 9-9 against each other during the regular season.
"We've both got good teams," Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina says. "The numbers don't lie.
"They have good hitters, and we have good hitters. They have good pitchers, and we have good pitchers."
The Cardinals, who will send Edwin Jackson to the mound for Game 7, have history with them: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, in a best-of-seven series that was tied at 2-2, the winner of Game 5 has gone on to win 36 of 52 series -- including 10 of 13 in the LCS.
The Brewers, who will start Shaun Marcum, have home-field advantage with them: Including the playoffs, they're 61-25 in Miller Park this year. Close the roof, as MLB says it will do for Game 6 because a chilly afternoon/night is expected, and the Brewers are 26-12.
St. Louis infielder Ryan Theriot says he "loves" the atmosphere in Milwaukee, and while acknowledging that these two teams probably deserve to go seven games ... you can guess which way he's leaning overall.
"I don't want to go to Game 7," Theriot says. "You want to get that win as soon as you can. Momentum is a big deal."
Likes: We've got a chance to have a Game 7 in an LCS for the first time since 2008 (Boston-Tampa Bay). ... Last time we had two Game 7s? Try 2003: Yankees-Red Sox and Cubs-Marlins. ... Chuck Berry in St. Louis participating in the national anthem the other day. ... Autumn colors now in Technicolor in Milwaukee and St. Louis both. ... Culver's frozen custard in Milwaukee. Did I mention this? I'm sure I have. But man, their concretes with ground up Twix bars are terrific.
Dislikes: A short flight of only about an hour ... delayed for two hours. Talk about feeling like you're going backwards. ... The very nice waitress at breakfast in the St. Louis airport Saturday morning who crossed over the line when joking that when she turned 51, she got a mustache for her birthday. ... Those hideous uniforms in Saturday's Michigan-Michigan State game. Man, between all this conference shifting and gawdawful uniforms, college football is starting to go to the hounds. ... Aw, they canceled Charlie's Angels so soon? I've been on the road so long I never even saw it.
Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Deadlines and commitments
"What to leave in, what to leave out"
-- Bob Seger, Against the Wind
Posted on: October 26, 2010 10:56 pm
SAN FRANCISCO -- The road to the World Series goes through the Molina brothers.
Texas catcher Bengie.
St. Louis catcher Yadier.
And Toronto catcher Jose.
It's sort of true.
Bengie, the current World Series Molina, said Tuesday that it is not a subject he and his brothers discuss.
"Not yet," Bengie says. "Once we're done with baseball, we're going to sit down with some pina coladas somewhere special and talk about what we've accomplished. But that's not now."
Posted on: January 5, 2010 11:15 pm
Did St. Louis vastly overpay slugger Matt Holliday in his spiffy new seven-year, $120 million deal?
Are the Cardinals headed for serious turbulence given their colossal Holliday commitment when The Franchise, Albert Pujols, is hurtling toward free agency himself (his contract is up after 2010, the Cards hold a 2011 option on him)?
Is there impending doom just around the corner?
Legitimate questions, all.
But, man, are the 2010 Cardinals going to have some fun.
With a middle-of-the-order containing Holliday and Pujols, Lethal Weapons I and II, and with a top-of-the-rotation featuring Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, Tony La Russa again will be managing a Disneyland of a club.
The Cardinals just became heavy NL Central favorites. Yeah, yeah, the Cubs will be leaner and meaner having purged themselves of Mr. Oversized Baggage, Milton Bradley. Milwaukee still can score. Cincinnati? Pittsburgh? Houston? Please.
La Russa and general manager John Mozeliak are playing for keeps, and though this isn't a perfect team -- the Cards remain light at shortstop (Brendan Ryan) and rookie David Freese currently is the Lone Ranger on the depth chart at third base -- there is too much else to like. Besides, even with Mark De Rosa off the board (signed with San Francisco), the Cards will scoop up someone. Otherwise ... Ryan Ludwick, Colby Rasmus (who now comes with a year of seasoning), Yadier Molina and Skip Schumaker ... and did I mention the Holliday-Pujols tandem?
Yes, the richest contract awarded this winter seems somewhat excessive, given the fact that the Cardinals' chief competition in negotiations for Holliday at this point seemed to be the Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars. Once the Mets signed Jason Bay, there essentially was just one chair left for Holliday, and it was in Pujols' clubhouse.
That said, for Holliday to earn an average annual value of $17 million, exceeding Bay's $16 million a year, is just one more feather in the already overstuffed and plumed cap of superagent Scott Boras. How does he keep doing this?
Mozeliak fretted some at the GM meetings in Chicago two months ago at the prospect of attempting to squeeze both Holliday and Pujols into one payroll. In the end, clearly, he decided the alternative -- losing Holliday -- was worse.
There will be lots of tightrope walking ahead, especially when negotiations open for an extension for Pujols. But you know what? That's another problem for another day, and there is every chance that Mozeliak and Co. will work around that and figure it out.
To all those who already are worrying that the Cardinals won't be able to afford Pujols down the line, I ask you this:
If the Cardinals don't make moves like they did Tuesday to retain Holliday and the team gets worse, do you think Pujols will want to stay in St. Louis then?
Play it too conservatively, don't field a World Series contender, and there's no guarantee Pujols stays.
Play it too aggressively, commit a ton of dough to Holliday ... and there's no guarantee Pujols stays.
Which way would you rather go?
The answer is obvious: Try to win while you figure out a way to keep Pujols.
Sure, eventually, the Cardinals may live to regret it. They now become one of only three big league clubs to employ at least two players making $100 million each -- the others, of course, are the Yankees (CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter) and the Mets (Johan Santana and Carlos Beltran). Sometime in the future, maybe they may find themselves looking to trade Holliday in order to keep Pujols. Maybe in the interim, they win a World Series, too.
At the risk of sounding overly naïve, the future will take care of itself ... and if need be, Mozeliak will massage and adapt and figure it out.
As for the present, the Cardinals made the right move.