It’s been less than a week since the St. Louis Cardinals were removed from the playoffs by the San Francisco Giants winning Games 5, 6, and 7 of the National League Championship Series. What seemed on the morning of October 19th as inevitable, that the Cardinals would be playing for their 12th World Series championship in 2012, failed to come to pass thanks to shaky starting pitching and a slumping offense.
Over the final three games of the NLCS, the Giants outscored the Cardinals 20-1. They did exactly what they’d done just a series earlier to the Cincinnati Reds. In the National League Divisional Series against the Reds, the Reds won the first two games of the best of five series in San Francisco. Over the final 3 games of the series in Cincinnati, the Giants won all three games. They’d survived with their backs against the wall once, they could do it again.
Going into Game 7, the media portrayed the game as two teams who refused to give up. The Cardinals rode a six game winning streak in games where a loss would have eliminated them from the playoffs. The Giants had won five straight, all in 2012. But unlike Game 5 of the NLDS where the Cardinals got down 6-0 to a young and inexperienced Washington Nationals club, the Giants are a veteran team whose key players had been there before. They weren’t likely to collapse like the Nationals did. And they didn’t.
So instead of sitting here writing about how the Cardinals are preparing for Game 3 of the World Series, I find myself sitting here looking at what the Cardinals intend to do this offseason after an unceremonious exit from the playoffs.
I’ve been silent since the Garcia news in the NLDS. I was quiet after the final game of the NLCS because I felt I was too emotional about the result to really offer up opinions free of emotion. That’s not the way I like to write. If you really want to hear my thoughts about the Cardinals’ performance over the last few games, Kevin and I hashed it out on the UCB Radio Hour this past week.
There are definitely things that I feel like Mike Matheny could have done better throughout the playoffs. I still maintain that he did not manage the final three innings of Game 7 to win. But the players kept fighting, putting runners in scoring position in each of the final two innings. That’s something I’m proud of. That’s the thing I love about baseball. The clock can’t save you. You need 27 outs. Until you have them, you can still lose. Conversely, there is still hope, no matter how small, for the other team.
To me, the key decision of the series was Bruce Bochy’s decision to remove Madison Bumgarner from the rotation after he allowed 6 earned runs in 3 2/3 innings in Game 1 against the Cardinals. Instead, the Giants threw Tim Lincecum in Game 4 and Barry Zito in Game 5. The Cardinals still beat Lincecum, but he performed better. Bochy was unafraid to tell Bumgarner, who had been his second best pitcher all year, that he wasn’t going to be starting again in the NLCS. The message it sends to your team is that they need to bring their A game or someone else who does can take their spot.
Bumgarner understood the move and came back in Game 2 of the World Series, hurling 7 innings of 2-hit baseball against the Detroit Tigers. Matheny seemed unwilling to do that. Granted, I’m not sure I’d want to be the guy who went up to Chris Carpenter and says, “Hey, the Giants have you figured out. You aren’t good enough to beat them right now. We’re going with another option.” But that’s what Matheny is paid to do. The Giants had him figured out and it was time to throw them a curve.
One of my biggest complaints about Matheny during the season is that he didn’t adjust to changes in circumstances well. This came apparent in the bullpen in August and September, where it didn’t seem to matter how large the St. Louis lead was you knew that Edward Mujica had the seventh, Mitchell Boggs had the eighth, and Jason Motte had the ninth. Except for injuries to Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday, Matheny made no changes to the postseason lineup. Even with many of his regulars in postseason long slumps.
Bochy out managed Matheny and that’s just one more aspect where the team got beat. Of course, Bochy is quite possibly the most underrated manager in baseball. That’s why the Giants are where they are right now.
And now with the offseason on tap, the Cardinals now start to really work on figuring out the 2013 team. It’s a team that likely won’t have Kyle Lohse or Lance Berkman on it. Dyar Miller isn’t returning as the team’s bullpen coach. And the team has big questions to answer at shortstop with Rafael Furcal and with Jaime Garcia in the rotation. Payroll will be an issue with this team as they shouldn’t have any issue surpassing the $110 million level they’ve tried to stay at the last two years.
But the good news is that the young guys have some experience under their belt and will be looking to be back better than ever. And they’ll be ready to contribute, firm in the knowledge that they know they can succeed because they already have.
The Cardinals are capable of being right back in the NLCS again next year. No doubt.