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A little fire from a player and honesty from a writer isn’t a bad thing
All the thoughts that are fit to publish.
You hear that? The roller coaster is getting put back on the tracks. Ladies and gents, Randal Grichuk has returned after an 18 game absence. Suddenly, from the shadows of doubt, disbelief and an unknown rehab schedule, the Rosenberg, Texas product is stable again. I couldn’t have been more surprised looking down at my phone and seeing the press release. Where was the timetable? The elbow strain that was combustible for weeks but now is back in session. What does Grichuk mean to this team when healthy? Randal’s impact to this Cardinals’ lineup when healthy is comparable to a new ride opening at Six Flags. Just watch and admire.
Another smoking gun waiting for his chance in what is expected to be a closely contested game at Busch Stadium. He is one of the few players on this team that can’t make the starting lineup yet still linger just as deadly. Clint Hurdle will be thinking about Grichuk the entire night. That’s the Grichuk effect in a nutshell. An oncoming storm that you must prepare for in advance. The kid can fail to get the sweet spot of the barrel on the ball and still hit out to right center field for a home run. That’s how good he is.
What was he doing before his elbow barked on August 16th? Have you seen the movie, Action Jackson?!!!? Grichuk was among the top rookies in baseball with 15 home runs, 44 RBI, and a .561 slugging percentage. In 289 at bats, Grichuk had an unreal 43 extra base hits. With a full slate of 550 at bats, Grichuk would end up with 75-80 extra base hits. He’s a special kind of lethal.
The drawbacks aren’t hard to recognize. His 97 strikeouts in the same low number of at bats(34 percent) signal a kid still getting to know the strike zone. A student with a few credit hours to go before he graduates from the Sombrero watch. It’s also important to remember the ripe young age of Grichuk(24 years old). With only 399 at bats to date, Grichuk has plenty of time to cut down on the strikeouts but here’s the fun part. The explosive bat will not go away any time soon. He’s learning to take outside heaters to right field and lay at least one slider per four sent to the plate. If this is a learning curve, what does the finished product look like next year?
Matt Holliday and Matt Adams are also expected back this month, but Grichuk’s bat brings the most excitement. The Cardinals have plenty of on base specialists. They need the cannon inserted into the middle of the sparklers to ignite everything. That’s Grichuk in a nutshell. Ignition.
What’s my lineup when Grichuk is ready? Matt Carpenter, Stephen Piscotty, Jhonny Peralta, Jason Heyward, Randal Grichuk, Yadier Molina, Matt Adams, and Kolten Wong. That’s a layered explosive device that will be set off at Busch before the homestand is over.
The Cardinals offense has found its way in the past two weeks but could use a boost. Now with Grichuk back, the run production should only increase. Sitting with 92 wins, the best team in baseball is only going to get stronger in the next few weeks. How hard it must be to witness from the outside of The Lou?
The appeal of Grichuk is universal and even appeals to the casual baseball fan, like my wife. When I asked her where Grichuk should hit, her response was simple. “4th because he’s hot and he can clean up.” Unlike most Cardinals who people have a hard time remembering, Randal Grichuk isn’t easy to forget. He may strike out, hit a 410 foot home run or whiz a single past the pitcher’s ear. All in one night. He’s an experience.
And that experience has returned.
Have a good night and thanks for stopping by.
So the Cubs beat the Cardinals Friday and Saturday but wait, there’s more.
Friday, in the 5th inning, Matt Holliday was hit in the head by a Dan Haren breaking pitch that got away from the veteran starter. The pitch bounced off Holliday’s helmet, and tempers barely rose. Holliday slowly walked down the line, touched the base and exited. Remember, this was always the plan. Holliday was never going to stay in the game. He’s still got a gimpy leg. The effect of this HBP would reverberate throughout the game. Like the night you are lazy and eat McDonald’s because there’s nothing else open but you feel it right afterwards. Part of me wanted Holliday to pull an Avengers and hulk slam Haren like the big green fella did Loki, but that’s just the movie addict in me.
This came after Tyler Lyons hit Anthony Rizzo in the fourth inning. Clearly not intentional and Rizzo hovers the plate anyway. However…
In the 8th inning, Cards pitcher Matt Belisle threw a pitch behind Anthony Rizzo that barely brushed his calf, but the young first baseman reacted differently than Holliday and took a step towards the mound. This is baseball, land of the shoving contests and hard stares, so there was never going to be a real fight. Belisle was kicked out due to the warnings given by umpires after the Holliday HBP, and Mike Matheny was also sent packing. Enough, right? No, after the game Joe Maddon unleashed a tirade that included rewriting books on late game strategy and noted that the Cards “started this but we will finish it”. I really think Joe likes to hear himself talk but that’s just me.
Lost control or not, Haren hit Holliday in the head. As Tony La Russa would say, get better control of your pitches or go play softball. Rizzo gets grazed in the leg and he’s mad about it. Please. I am surprised Rizzo actually got out of the way of a pitch because if it helps his on base percentage, it’ll let anything touch him. Point being, whether the pitch was on purpose, there’s no reason to get up in a frenzy about it. It’s baseball folks. That’s all. The Cards retaliated in the least harmful way possible. Was it right? No. Did Maddon need to treat this game like the Art of War declaration? No.
In Saturday’s game, three Cardinal batters were hit. Kolten Wong was hit twice, one on a pitch up and in. Joe Maddon and his pitcher were ejected in the 9th inning. After Maddon’s big speech on Friday evening after the game, how does he justify his pitchers plunking three Cardinals the next day. Were the HBP on purpose? No. Will we ever know for sure? No. Pitchers are paid to throw baseball at a high velocity towards the plate and establish a zone that hitters have a hard time touching. Faulty results are common. This weekend has proved not only has the rivalry returned but foolhardy hijinks have followed as well. It’s all kind of unneeded.
For all the Matheny haters and critics out there, have you seen how cool and collected he has been while Maddon has acted like a hungry child? Take notes if you will.
Here’s what I don’t like. The umpires warning the benches so early after supposed unintentional hit by pitch incidents. If it was clearly not on purpose, why warn them? The rest of the game, each team is put on edge and anything inside becomes suspect to ejection of players and cool tempers. It’s comical. The Holliday head shot was unfortunate and 99% unintentional, but why issue a warning? Nothing is more ridiculous in baseball than the under-cooked bench warnings.
This sets up a hot and contested finale on Sunday that was already carrying juice Friday morning. At the very least, this sets the burner on this previously dead rivalry to medium high. The Cubs haven’t had someone that was this outspoken since Dusty Baker and we all know how those Septembers played out. While the Maddon speech was a bit over the top, it did signify that these two teams don’t like each other all that much and this historically prevalent rivalry has got its legs back.
You know what they say about Wrigley action in September? To quote the late and great Joaquin Andujar, “you never know”. Welcome to the end of a long tired season. You can act like a manager whose team has looked up at the Cardinals for 5 straight seasons or you can stay calm and cool like Matheny and know that as long as the Cards avoid a sweep Sunday, the series wasn’t botched.
Where do you stand on this HBP infused rivalry?
There isn’t a more popular trend on Twitter during St. Louis Cardinals games than throwing manager Mike Matheny on a white hot grill and dissecting his moves. Every fan base does it, but in St. Louis it’s an extreme activity. Win or lose, it’s all about what did Matheny do wrong.
There should be a new stat for the Matheny critics called Wins Above Matheny. WAM instead of WAR or WIN. When I decided to defend Matheny last month for a controversial move, I was riddled with comments and feedback that saw people questioning my judgement and soberness. You would think I was defending a coach managing a team in last place with 40 more losses than wins.
The situation. Washington Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman came to the plate in the 8th inning with first base open. He had scolded the Cardinals and the National League for the past week. He cranked two home runs Wednesday and four during the series. The consensus of Twitter wanted Matheny to walk Zimmerman and pitch to Yunel Escobar, who is a fine hitter with a .320 average off right-handed pitchers. Jonathan Broxton had walked a guy to begin the inning. He had a 3-1 strikeouts to walks ratio and was holding right-handed hitters to a .214 average.
I didn’t have a problem with Matheny allowing Brox to be careful or pitch to Zimmerman. Ryan hit an outside pitch down the right field line for a go ahead double. The Cardinals didn’t sweep and therefore fell to a rougher 39 games over .500. People immediately blamed the skipper for allowing Brox to pitch to Zimmerman, aka Mickey Mantle. They didn’t point out the weak offense that managed three runs on 13 hits or Brox for failing to get the man out. This is a usual activity for fans after a loss. How can we blame Matheny?
The same thing happened Friday st Wrigley. The Cards get beat by Joe Maddon’s Cubs and it is all Matheny’s fault. Please.
Let me state that Matheny isn’t perfect. Far from it. Which manager is perfect? He has an attachment with certain players even when they clearly aren’t doing their job or are not healthy(Allen Craig in 2014, Jon Jay in 2015). He does make questionable calls during games. He can be outmanaged by a fellow manager like Bruce Bochy but also runs circles around other player turned managers like Don Mattingley and Matt Williams.
Matheny’s tutelage and ability as a tactician is a great subject for ridicule but it’s also something that is still being honed. Ask any fanbase if they love all the in game moves by their manager and the list will be very short. St. Louis fans just don’t experience this because they are too busy chopping down Matheny. He is not without his faults but he is also doing something impressive with the roster this season.
Anyone who can’t appreciate Matheny’s work this year will probably never appreciate his work. The 2015 Cardinals have been hit with a variety of injuries and setbacks. They lost their ace starting pitcher, their left fielder, their first baseman, their setup man, and their versatile outfield bat in Jon Jay for a huge part of the season. Jaime Garcia went missing for a stretch. Their bullpen has also lost Matt Belisle for half a season. Nothing has gone right. Hot bat Randal Grichuk has been out for two weeks. Still, for the fourth year in a row, the Cardinals are right among the top teams in the National League. They are a remarkable 92-55 with a 5 lead over Pittsburgh.
How does credit not find Mike Matheny for his work with a roster that has been made up of AAA hands for fair portions of the season? How does he not deserve a decent amount of consideration for Manager of the Year when he lost three starters in the first three months of the season? When people have to reference a World Series mistake from 2013 in their criticism of Matheny, isn’t that telling you something? The man has improved dramatically this year.
Many pointed to his usage of Trevor Rosenthal last year as horrible. This year, he has went to Kevin Siegrist for saves throughout the season and even used Rosenthal in non save chances. His usage of his closer has improved this year and the results are there on display. The closer is getting results and looks a lot sharper this year as a result of Matheny’s adjustment.
Matheny has leaned on rookies like Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty in the absence of veteran starters. He only starts Pete Kozma once every two weeks and Tony Cruz once a week. He isn’t calling for as many bunts as he has in the past. The improvements are there while the results are still overwhelmingly positive. Did anybody see this team in this position when Waino went down in late April? The answer is no. If you ask the majority of Cardinal nation on social media, the credit belongs to a pitching staff and not Matheny.
How many seasons does this guy have to win in order to gain more respect from his fans? If we go off the great football coach Bill Parcells’ saying that you are as good as your record, then Matheny is very very good. When managers are fired in baseball, the fans and media point to their record. In St. Louis, it just doesn’t matter how good Matheny’s teams are, he doesn’t deserve the credit. Hey look at what Clint Hurdle is doing in Pittsburgh! Look at Terry Collins in New York! Joe Maddon’s Cubs are great!
Hey, neither of those teams are as good as the Cardinals and neither of those teams have dealt with the amount of injuries Matheny has been forced to juggle in St. Louis. Doesn’t that apply when assessing a manager? How else do you assess a coach or manager in sports?
Mike Matheny has 20 playoff wins in 39 career postseason games, but people will point to his losses to the Giants and Red Sox(eventual World Series winners) as his downfall. Well, of course. That doesn’t make him a bad manager. It just doesn’t make sense.
Matheny’s record as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals is 367-266. Matheny has done that with numerous injuries and breakdowns. Give a roster to Matheny and he wins. Weak bench or not, he wins. Every year. For some people, that’s not enough. The Cardinals can win 8 of 10 games here to finish August and start September, but the loss to the Nationals will be nitpicked. He gets all the blame for the losses and little credit for the wins. Sounds like a losing argument to me.
Matheny can win a World Series and people will complain. That’s a bet. Some managers and coaches can’t escape blame. If Randy Choate comes in and doesn’t do his job once, Matheny is blamed for using him. When Choate does it, it was just Choate making a pitch. When Seth Maness coaxes double plays like a magician, it’s not Matheny knowing when it use him or not, it’s just Seth magic. When pitchers fail, it’s Matheny’s fault. If Brox gets Zimmerman out, nothing happens or at least, Brox bailed out Matheny. If Zimmerman walks and Escobar cranks an RBI hit, Matheny is blamed for pitching around Zimmerman. Win or lose, the narrative on Matheny never changes.
I think he is the right man to manage this team. When Ryne Sandberg was canned in Philadelphia, Jimmy Rollins pointed to some guys not feeling 100% convinced Sandberg was the man for the job in 2014. They talked about not playing all out or go for broke for their manager. You NEVER hear that in St. Louis. The players on this roster would go through walls for their manager. His connection with these players and their trust and belief in him can’t be quantified by a stat on Fangraphs or Baseball Reference, but it’s a real thing that beats throughout his clubhouse. Matheny is the right man for this team, which is why I was happy with John Mozeliak hiring him after the 2011 season. There isn’t a manager out there who could elicit a better performance from this team. Sorry Terry Francona fans.
While the narrative will support Collins and Maddon for the award, I think Matheny deserves serious consideration for the Manager of the Year award. The injuries, expectations and hurdles he has faced this year may have gotten the best of a lot of young managers, but not Matheny. There has to be a value in there. A value to go with his 361 regular season wins and 20 playoff wins.
It’s easy to throw blame on Matheny. The crowd is huge for that. While I will complain about some of his tactics, that’s par for the course in this game. Maddon, Hurdle, and Collins all get grilled by their fanbase just as hard. I can recognize an improvement in Matheny’s managerial performance this season. He’s growing as a manager while being the best leader in any clubhouse in baseball. No players trust their leader like the Cards trust Matheny. The results are there. The little things are catching up fast.
While he is far from the people’s favorite, Mike Matheny is the man for the job in St. Louis. His record and improvement in a treacherous season have earned him serious consideration for the Manager of the Year award. Have they not?
What is your take on the manager?