St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and hitting coach John Mabry have been taking a lot of heat on the internet lately because of their team's struggles.
(And isn't it nice that we live in a town where the team is considered to be "struggling" when it is only a little bit over the .500 mark?)
So I wonder who gets the credit for the club's sudden breakout Wednesday night over the Atlanta Braves.
Outfielder Peter Bourjos, the poster boy for the Redbirds hitting troubles, was at the center of much of the controversy because he was benched after his batting average sagged and the strikeouts started to pile up.
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The social media experts claimed it was Matheny's fault Bourjos was playing poorly. Either the skipper didn't give Bourjos enough time to work out his problems or else he didn't let him get enough at-bats to develop a rhythm. Some demanded on their social media sites and blogs that the Cardinals trade Bourjos to a team that has leadership smart enough to appreciate what he has to offer. Others just wanted to see Matheny (who has never failed to make it at least to the league championship series as an MLB manager) and Mabry (who was also the hitting coach when the Redbirds were producing offense at a record pace in 2013) be fired.
Suddenly, with five hits in his last two starts, Bourjos has the armchair managers patting themselves on the back.
But, it seems to me, that those conspiracy theories don't hold water. Bourjos didn't break out after Matheny gave in and let him play for several days to hack his way out of his slump. He got two hits on May 5 after he hadn't started a game since April 26. In between those starts, Bourjos had three at-bats and was hitless. That sort of treatment was supposed to be the cause of his woes, remember? On May 6, Bourjos sat. Then on May 7 he got back into the starting lineup and had his three-hit game.
That pattern makes me wonder if maybe Matheny or Mabry aren't the villains in this story after all. It seems more likely that the Cardinals were working with the struggling outfielder away from games to correct his swing and/or to break his slump mentality. Bourjos didn't break out because internet whiners got their way. It seems much more likely that the people who are paid a lot of money to solve these problems stayed the course and found a problem in Bourjos' swing or cleared his head by taking the pressure off with a mental break.
Matheny chose to start Bourjos Monday against a pitcher who he had a career .375 batting average against. On Wednesday he started because of the favorable match-up between the right-handed hitter and the lefty pitcher. While the complainers opined that Matheny set Bourjo up to fail he was actually trying to set him up to succeed. Now we'll see if the enigmatic outfielder who couldn't secure a starting position in four seasons with the Anaheim Angels can keep it up over the long haul.
The bottom line is Major League Baseball doesn't have room for excuses. Players have to make the most out of whatever opportunities they get. Nothing is promised and there's too much on the line for skippers to play mental games. They need to do whatever they can to win today or, for their career, there may be no tomorrow. If Bourjos can't hit because he doesn't start everyday, he's not that good of a ballplayer because there are people on every team who succeed as platoon players.
Meanwhile, it's disturbing to me how cliquish some Cardinals fans have become. They turn against their own players or the team's management at the slightest sign of trouble. Two months ago the people who ran this team were lauded as brilliant talent evaluators. Two days ago they were idiots who couldn't see that a guy with a .304 career on-base percentage and .247 batting average would be a great hitter if they'd just play him every darn day.
Jon Jay was a good enough centerfielder to help the Cardinals to two World Series. And now the fans treat him like he's a bad guy because he's the guy asked to pick up the outfield slack. Nevermind that Randal Grichuk, the guy most likely to take over centerfield for the long haul, praised Jay for taking him under his wing. Nobody is saying Jay is a perfect player. But there are 25 men on a roster and none of them are going to be perfect. You have to design a mosaic that fits together the best way possible when you're putting together an MLB roster.
Personally, I don't care who plays, what the players' batting averages are or who gets the credit as long as the team wins. And it bugs me that people assume they know everything that's going on behind the scenes because they watch a few games on TV.
I don't mean to sound like a homer. I'd complain loud and long if the Cardinals sagged to being a non-competitive team. But the people guiding this team have earned more than a little benefit of the doubt about their decisions because of their history. Three consecutive NLCS berths, two World Series and a pennant in the last three years aren't enough to convince some that the guys running the show know what they're doing?
Like a bratty little brother or sister tattling on their older sibling, some Redbirds "fans" gleefully said they were waiting for John Mozeliak to take Mike Matheny to task for going against his wishes by benching Bourjos.
Mozeliak didn't hire Matheny to be his proxy. He put together what he though was a complete roster and left Matheny to decide how to employ it on a day-to-day basis.
Players are people, not machine parts. Sometimes there's more that goes on than meets the eyes. Sometimes guys are going through personal problems, fighting a nagging injury or battling any one of a million other reasons that aren't talked about in public are behind unusually poor play. It's foolish to assume that Matheny doesn't have his reasons for handling Bourjos the way he has.
This isn't the first time a player has been benched because of a slump and it won't be the last. So let's try not to freak out while we wait for guys with a pretty spectacular track history try to get things back in the groove.