If the St. Louis Cardinals have anything positive to show for being swept by the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, it’s that their mission is now clear.
Up until Sunday, it was uncertain whether the team was playing for a chance to make the postseason in 2017 or retooling for 2018. After falling to six games back with a dozen games to play, there’s no doubt it’s time to start thinking about the future.
The first thing the Redbirds must do is move on from manager Mike Matheny.
I don’t say this lightly. I realize we’re talking about a person’s livelihood. I hope the team would offer Matheny, who still has a new contract extension in front of him, another position within the organization. Maybe he could be an assistant to the general manager or a roving catching instructor.
But being the manager of a big-league club isn’t his strong suit.
During his tenure, the Cardinals have gotten progressively worse in the fundamentals. Baserunning, fielding, moving runners – you name it, this team seems to have forgotten how to do the little things. That’s especially painful when then-General Manager John Mozeliak announced last winter that one of the skipper’s primary assignments for 2017 was to tighten up his team’s play. There’s no way to grade that job as other than an F.
Matheny doesn’t seem to have learned anything about managing a bullpen in his six years in St. Louis. Both Friday and Saturday he allowed close games he couldn’t afford to lose to get out of hand by leaving obviously struggling starters in too long, when he has a deeper-than-usual bullpen because of expanded September rosters.
Supposedly, Matheny got the Cardinals job because he is a great leader. But it seems the players have turned against him. Dexter Fowler reportedly agonized over the prospect of taking a contract from the Redbirds because he was told the St. Louis clubhouse is a miserable place. Other players have supposedly shunned coming to Busch Stadium for the same reason.
Finally, the Cardinals are all about building from within through the draft and player development. Over Matheny’s tenure, there have been a bunch of young prospects on the radar. Not many of them have panned out. Shelby Miller, Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, Matt Adams, Aledmys Diaz, Marco Gonzales and others have all disappointed.
Are the Cardinals going to trust that track record with the new crop of youngsters like Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, Paul DeJong, Harrison Bader, Magneuris Sierra, Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty?
It’s true that Matheny has had a fine winning percentage during his tenure. But most of that success came with a veteran squad he inherited. His last two years have easily been his worst and that can’t be dismissed.
The Cardinals need a fresh start for the sake of making the most out of the players they have and to grease the skids for much-needed free agents by creating an atmosphere attractive to free agents.
It was a mistake to hire a person with no professional coaching experience to lead the most storied team in National League history. The front office thought Matheny would grow into the job. More than a half a decade later, it’s obvious that didn’t happen. And it’s not going to happen. There’s no better time than now to move on.