Looking for a scapegoat for the Cardinals’ recent swoon? ESPN’s Paul Swydan has one for you: Mike Matheny. In his article in ESPN Insider (pay link), the subtly titled “Matheny costing Cards the division,” he cites the club’s record in close games:
It’s often said that a good way to judge a manager’s tactical ability is how well his team performs in close games, and the Cardinals’ performance in close games has left a lot to be desired. This season, just eight teams have fared worse in games decided by one or two runs — the Brewers, Blue Jays, Angels, Nationals, Rockies, White Sox, Marlins and Astros. Collectively, those teams are 395-540, good (or rather, bad) for a .422 winning percentage. Their average spot in the Power Rankings is No. 23. None of them is in the top half of the rankings. The Cards most certainly are, but it has been despite their play in close games.
We’re not prepared to disagree with the conclusion, but we’re skeptical of the means of reaching it. That’s because we’re skeptical of how much a team’s record in close games can tell us. By their very nature, close games mean that small matters can tip the outcome either way — think of a bad hop, bad call, etc. It’s true that they can skew a team’s actual record away from its pythagorean record. But some of the best teams show poorly in close games: The Cardinals, Yankees and Tigers all went to the playoffs in 2012 with losing records in one-run games. Conversely, the 2012 Marlins were a .500 team in one-run decisions and lost 93 games total.
Of course, that doesn’t mean a manager isn’t responsible for some of those decisions, or that Matheny in particular isn’t hurting his team.
Rookie Michael Wacha is in limbo. No, his soul isn’t in some intermediate state between heaven and hell. It’s his role on the big club, as Chad Thornburg explains:
For now, Matheny said rookie Michael Wacha’s role is in limbo, although it’s likely the right-hander will shift into the bullpen for the immediate future. Wacha’s locker in the clubhouse was moved from its spot next to Wainwright to further down the row among the relievers.
We’re glad to hear that Matheny announced that Shelby Miller will stay in the rotation after his elbow bashing and that the team’s two other top-caliber pitchers, Lance Lynn and Adam Wainwright, will face the Pirates in the important upcoming series. But the uncertainty around Wacha mystifies. Granted, he wasn’t very good in his last start, posting a 5.85 FIP over 23 Cub batters. However, lest we remind readers, neither was Jake Westbrook (6.65). On the other hand, Joe Kelly has been pleasantly surprising, and we need to give credit where due. The guy threw a 3.05 FIP over 24 batters and lowered his season mark to 4.16. It’s nothing to buy him out through his arbitration years, and it’s a full point worse that his ERA (3.14) makes him appear, but it makes him a serviceable part of the rotation. And that’s all the Cardinals need their fifth starter to be.
Mujica closing on the cheap
In a sport that is often notorious for its reluctance to accept change — note how many still want to award the Cy Young based on “wins” — it appears the myth of the high-priced closer as a requirement for success is finally dead, or at least close to it. If the playoffs started Thursday, not a single one of the six division winners would be using a closer they paid top dollar to on the open market.
Petriello goes on to list the Cardinals’ 2011 success with Jason Motte and Fernando Salas, though he might also have mentioned what the team is doing this year in Motte’s absence. True, the team spent not a small amount of money on Motte’s new contract. But it’s Edward Mujica who is closing games this year, and for a lot less.
The lonely lives of pitchers
Darvish flirts with no-hitter, K’s 15 — ESPN headline
The Michael Scott school of justice
Trout: PED users should receive lifetime ban — ESPN headline
That’s a big claim to prove
Rays claim Astros LHP Wright to bolster pen — ESPN headline
Join the conversation on Cubs Pulse –Comcast SportsNet Chicago
Bottom story of the day
Despite safety measures, no stadium foolproof — Associated Press headline
“I know that dude!”
Ernie Banks to be recognized at tonight’s game — Comcast SportsNet Chicago
Fan apologizes for throwing banana at Jones — ESPN headline
I can tell that we are gonna be friends
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Pujols to sue?
Albert Pujols is the latest person in America to wield the bully club of litigation in an effort to defend his honor. He responded last week to Jack Clark‘s allegation of steroid use not by proving how honorable he is but by the following strongly worded statement:
“I am currently in the process of taking legal action against Jack Clark and his employers at WGNU 920AM,” Pujols said in a statement released Friday. “I am going to send a message that you cannot act in a reckless manner, like they have, and get away with it. If I have to be the athlete to carry the torch and pave the way for other innocent players to see that you can do something about it, I am proud to be that person. I have five young children and I take being a role model very seriously. The last thing I want is for the fans, and especially the kids out there, to question my reputation and character.”
Well, what better way to not have fans — and those kids! — question his reputation and character than to use the legal system to achieve ends that he doesn’t want to do the hard work of on his own. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: If Pujols were truly sincere about his claims, he would volunteer to take as many tests as possible and make the results public. That obviously wouldn’t prove his innocence prior to this season, but it would go a long way to showing that he was willing to do his part. We’ll never know whether he was clean during his halcyon days (unless of course, he were to admit to doping), so at some level, it’s a moot point. But to hide behind a claim that he never failed “hundreds” of tests is a red herring; after all, Ryan Braun never technically failed a test, either. In this day, with countless players having doped, the man who once defended Barry Bonds needs to come up with something more original than the threat of a lawsuit. Cardinal fans are happy to have moved on from Pujols, but he unfortunately continues to tarnish his legacy for the fans he claims to care about.