Mike Matheny Isn’t the Problem. The Real Problem Are His Enablers

Can’t do it. Can’t hold back. Can’t take a deep breath and cruise into the weekend without airing out my frustration, confusion, and disappointment in baseball men who are doing nothing to intervene as a precious civic treasure sinks lower into mediocrity and loses prestige.

These are men that I truly like and respect … and I don’t know what’s gone wrong. But I can’t let it ride. Not after the Cardinals’ on-field dereliction of employee responsibility in their 11-3 loss of dignity at Milwaukee. It was a clownish routine filled with errors, brain-drain gaffes, wild pitching, low energy, short attention spans, and general buffoonery.

Can’t do it. Can’t hold back.

1. About that disgraceful performance at Miller Park: If Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and GM Mike Girsch find this acceptable — then it’s time to declare something: They are now the No. 1 problem.

2. Manager Mike Matheny didn’t hire himself. He didn’t give himself a contract extension. Matheny isn’t making the decision to keep Matheny as manager. Those decisions are made by DeWitt, Mozeliak and to a lesser extent, Girsch. And if these gentlemen think it’s smart to stay the course and continue to have a great franchise tarnished and losing prestige, they’re responsible. They are absolutely the No. 1 problem now. Because Matheny is their man, and that makes them enablers.

3. And as the totals continue to rise on the number of fielding errors, broken pitchers, the outs given away with idiotic base running, and games lost because of wrong strategy decisions — then DeWitt and his men are assisting in the lowering of the franchise standards. And they have a hand in inflicting the damage being done to the Cardinals’ brand.

4. Where have all the smart people gone? Seriously … what has happened here? Why would DeWitt and Mozeliak put up with this? Why would they want this franchise to become a laughingstock on ESPN, which made fun of the Cardinals’ comedic bumbling in Thursday’s loss? I have to believe  DeWitt and Mo and Girsch have more pride than this. I’m legitimately stunned by their blindness in this area.

5. And please tell me something else: What’s the upside? This is Matheny’s seventh season. He hasn’t improved. He’s still screwing up in the same areas that cost this team wins two years ago, four years ago, six years ago. Matheny is getting worse… even though Mozeliak moved out a bunch of coaches — then moved in a bunch of new coaches in an attempt to make Matheny smarter. And now what? Order up another round of new coaches? (But just make sure to keep the hitting coach in place. Can’t mess with the formula that’s produced the NL’s 10th-best attack for scoring runs.)

6.  Question: When the Cardinals get ready to compete against the best teams and their top managers, do DeWitt and his men believe that Matheny gives them the advantage in the matchup? If the answer is “No,” or “Not sure,” then this is all a waste of time.

7.  Along those lines: if DeWitt and his men honestly believe Matheny is a good manager … well, it’s their team, and they can run it as they wish. But this leads to other observations.

8. If the manager is good, … then the roster isn’t.

9. If the roster is good … then the manager isn’t.

10. And if the roster isn’t good — which penalizes Matheny — then why can’t you come up with more talent and construct a more capable roster for your manager? Help him out.

11. Because if the roster had sufficient talent to get this team back into the playoffs, and this roster was being led by an effective manger … then the Cardinals would be back in the playoffs, right? They wouldn’t have missed in 2016 and ’17. And they wouldn’t miss out again this season, either.

12. So if the roster is good, and the manager is good … then please explain why the Cardinals are in danger of failing to qualify for the postseason for a third consecutive season.

13. Injuries are a factor. But your club is two games out of a wild-card spot. Plenty of time to heal up, move up. And, come to think of it …. plenty of time to trade up and improve the team.

14. This doesn’t add up, gentlemen. If the roster has the talent to deliver the Cardinals to the coveted place of October competition — and don’t make it again — then doesn’t this say something about the manager’s leadership, tactical intelligence, and overall effectiveness?

15. If a roster of playoff-caliber talent can’t make the playoffs, despite being led by a terrific manager — goodness, we’d love to hear the reason for it. That would be one heckuva press conference or interview.

16. If DeWitt and Mo and Girsch want to stand by Matheny, that’s fine by me for entirely selfish reasons. The manager is actually a rich source of media content.  He makes my job easier. I  always laugh when someone tells me that I hate Matheny, or that I’m trying to get him fired. This manager is a gold mine … he delivers an endless supply of topics to discuss, and examine, and debate. If this was about what benefits me in my job, I hope Matheny manages this team for as long as I’m still working.

17. Except that really isn’t the priority. I think the priority should be raising the Cardinals out of mediocrity instead of settling … and rationalizing … and spinning … and making excuses … and making false promises that aren’t kept … and allowing the standards to fall a little lower every time a series is lost.

18. The Cardinals are struggling and — lately — failing to beat bad teams at Busch Stadium. This shouldn’t be happening. And it can’t be allowed to continue.

That’s why Thursday’s 11-3 whacking was so maddening…

I’m sure the Cardinals would have us believe that this was just a random pile of mess … just one of those odd things, like spotting a sinkhole in your backyard … just one of those lousy games that pop up like unsightly weeds over the distance of a 162-game season.

“We’re a better team than that,” Matheny told reporters after his team’s eight-run wipeout by the superior Brewers on Thursday night. “And that’s all there is to it. And that’s the message.”

Pause right there. The Cardinals aren’t much better than that.

Let’s stop in and say a quick hello to reality, OK?

– The Cardinals led the NL in regular-season wins from 2000 through 2015, and had the most postseason wins by any team in the majors over the same 16 seasons. But the flawed fundamentals, the damaging base-running strategies and poor bullpen management began seeping in. These bad and uncorrected habits became debilitating factors, and the Cardinals flunked in 2016 and 2017 — missing out in the playoffs in both seasons.

— Since the start of the 2016 season the Cardinals have the fourth-best winning percentage (.521) in the National League. But look closer, and that winning percentage is heading down. The Cards’  winning percentage since the start of last season — .515 — is seventh-best in the NL. That’s quite a drop from that 16-season run (2000-2015) of being the No. 1 NL team with a win percentage of .565.

— The Cardinals still excel at slapping the Cincinnati Reds around, but that’s about it. Their dominance of the Reds has completely distorted the Cards’ record in recent times. Since  June 26 of last season, the Cardinals are 70-71 when facing teams other than the Reds. Since last Aug. 13, the Cardinals are 46-56 when the Reds aren’t the opponent. And the Cardinals’ record is 32-44 when playing against someone other than the Reds since last Sept .15.

— Over the last two seasons the Cardinals are 19-10 against Cincinnati, and 38-47 against the other three NL Central teams. That includes a combined 22-34 record against the Cubs and Brewers.

— Going into the weekend, the Cardinals are 18-23 in their last 41 games. That includes a 9-13 record at Busch Stadium, which used to be a site of home-field domination. Not anymore. This season the Cardinals have played 13 series at Busch and are 5-7-1 in those series. In the last seven series at Busch, the Cardinals are 1-5-1 and have dropped series at home to under .500 opponents Minnesota, Kansas City, Miami and San Diego.

— The Cardinals have a home winning percentage of .512 since the start of 2016. Over the 10 seasons before ’16, the Cards had a .612 winning percentage at Busch. A 100-point drop in winning percentage is a big deal.

— The Cardinals have won only three series (home or away) since May 7. They’ve played 13 series during that time, with a record of 3-7-3 in the 13.

— In going 18-23 stretch since May 7 the Cardinals have committed 40 errors — nine more than any MLB team over that time. Through Thursday the Cardinals had been charged with errors in seven consecutive games; the total errors count for the seven games is 13.

Matheny keeps insisting: This isn’t who the Cardinals really are.

“Call it what you want, but it’s not how we want to look. That’s all there is to it,” he said Thursday night.

Actually there’s a  lot more to it,   Mike.

His Cardinals are ninth in the NL in Defensive Runs Saved this season. They are tied with Texas for the most errors (61) in  the majors for 2018. His Cardinals lost 110 runners on the bases through unforced errors last season, and already have lost 51 runners on the bases 2018. No NL team has lost more runners on the bases (161) through unforced errors than the Matheny’s Cardinals over the last two years.

This is Matheny’s seventh season, and we’re still waiting for him to take responsibility, push his players instead of coddling them, be a tough guy in his actions rather than his image, and clean this junk up. That’s why so many good people out there are frustrated and perhaps even confused.

Why won’t Matheny clean this up?

Why does the Cardinals owner think it’s right to field a team that plays terrible fundamental baseball in a true and traditional baseball town with fans and customers who generously support the team?

We greatly appreciate sharp, smart, consistently executed fundamental baseball here.

Given how we pour money into the franchise, is that too much to ask for? 

What’s the point of having him as manager if he can’t clean this mess?

Does anyone down there care?

People just want to see the Cardinals return to prominence, and eminence.

It’s just upsetting to see something so treasured turning into something so shabby.

It’s like going back to where you grew up, and taking a drive to see your parents’ old house — a big, happy, beautiful place filled with the best people, the best days, the best of what you were … and as you roll up to the house you see a gutters hanging down, and your old bedroom window covered with card board because no one replaced the broken glass. A favorite tree is dying, the one you mother loved so much. The paint is chipped and cracked and faded. The roof is missing slate, and the front yard is barren, as if a bomb dropped there.

And this vision makes you mad, it makes you want to cry, and it makes you want to holler. You want to know who is responsible for letting this house go from being a thriving center of joy and community to an eyesore inhabited by folks who aren’t taking care of the place. Don’t they know how special it was?

It’s a lack of respect, a straying from responsibility to do what’s right.

And we saw that Thursday night in Milwaukee through a lack of effort and caring by the visiting team.

And we’re seeing it with a Cardinals’ ownership-management team that leaves me — regrettably — with no choice but to conclude they’re content with messy mediocrity.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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