1. This is what happens when you have only four bench players. So we're working on this little manager project for Friday, and earlier in the evening, I sent a tweet asking readers to grade their manager for his performance so far. These were actual comments from actual St. Louis Cardinals fans about Mike Matheny:
"A former MLB catcher that can't manage pitchers ... former youth league MGR that can be easily managed by his GM (D)"
"D, Matheny. Abysmal bullpen management, nonsensical lineups, tendency to stick with 'his guys' despite better options"
"Matheny C- due to poor in game mgt (BP, remove +hitters in close games for defensive purposes); good at soft skills"
"STL D+ never uses analytics to help make decisions. Slow in game moves. Bad use of pen. Vets over youth every time"
"F. Matheny doesn't understand how bullpens work. Team wins in spite of his blunders."
"Matheny B+. Great leadership and w/young players. Great at big picture focus. Poor bullpen management. Better w/less bunts"
That's a lot of negativity toward a manager who has made the playoffs each of his first four seasons, but since I've been doing this, Matheny has been one of the most criticized managers from what I've seen on Twitter, though some of that could be attributed to the volume and passion of Cardinals fans. Anyway, the Cardinals then played the Reds, and this happened:
Matheny lets Oh bat with bases loaded, 2 out, top 9, leading 5-4. Oh gets one out and gives up 3 in bottom 9th. #smrtbaseball— keithlaw (@keithlaw) August 3, 2016
When Broxton was double-switched into the game, Matheny put his spot sooner in the order, which is what caused Oh to bat. #mathenaging— viva el birdos (@vivaelbirdos) August 3, 2016
The Cardinals are carrying 13 pitchers, so Matheny is at a tactical disadvantage to start with, carrying only four bench players in a NL game. Let's review his moves:
4. The Cardinals take a 3-2 lead, but Siegrist gives up a single and then a two-run homer to Adam Duvall in the bottom of the seventh. Matt Bowman comes in for Siegrist, batting fifth and due up fourth in the eighth.
5. Brandon Moss homers in the eighth to tie it, so Bowman's spot comes up. Tommy Pham pinch hits and drills a home run to give the Cardinals a 5-4 lead. The inning ends two batters later, so No. 8 hitter Kolten Wong would be leading off the ninth.
6. Pham remains in the game in center field. Jonathan Broxton comes in for Matt Holliday, in the No. 3 spot in the order. You see what happened there? Matheny wanted Pham in there over Holliday for defense, but that moved the pitcher's spot up sooner in the order.
7. In the bottom of the eighth, the Reds loaded the bases with one out on two walks and an error. Matheny now wants to bring in his closer, Seung Hwan Oh. Matheny realizes the pitcher's spot is due up fifth in the next inning, so there's a chance that spot will come up -- and considering the bases are loaded, there's a good chance the Reds will tie the score or even take the lead. The two players left on his bench are outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker and backup catcher Alberto Rosario. Matheny double-switches ... but only saves one spot in the order, with Hazelbaker now batting in the Holliday/Broxton spot, and Oh batting right behind him in Matt Adams' cleanup spot (Moss moved to first base).
Well, Oh got a double play to escape the jam. The Cardinals got two on with two outs. Hazelbaker was intentionally walked, and in a high-leverage situation with the opportunity to score more runs, Matheny let Oh hit instead of Rosario. Oh struck out in his first major league plate appearance. Twelve pitches later, Scott Schebler, just recalled from the minors, did this:
BRB, watching this until tomorrow's game.https://t.co/ZAresP0fy8— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) August 3, 2016
So is Matheny to blame for the 7-5 loss? Look, if Oh closes it out, we're not talking about how Matheny let a pitcher hit in the ninth inning of a one-run game with the bases loaded. But he didn't, so we're talking about how and why it happened.
The problem, of course, begins with a four-man bench, which is really a three-man bench because you can't really use the backup catcher. The other problem is the four bench players: Garcia is the only backup infielder, as Pham and Hazelbaker are strictly outfielders. Once Garcia entered, Matheny couldn't double-switch with him, Wong or Jedd Gyorko because he didn't have another non-first-base infielder. If you're dumb enough to carry only four bench players, you need two who can play the infield.
If Matheny had that player, he would have double-switched Broxton in Gyorko's spot in the lineup, because Gyorko had the made the final out of the top of the eighth. But Garcia was already in the game, so he couldn't do that. Or, he should have put Broxton in Pham's spot, two spots lower than Holliday's spot. With a short bench, it's almost impossible to use defensive replacements. Just too much of a chance you run out of players.
The other thing Matheny probably should have done was let Duke pitch to Hamilton. Bringing in Garcia so early, in the sixth inning, set all this in motion. Or, if he felt he had to use Siegrist to escape the inning, just let him bat or have Hazelbaker or Pham pinch hit and keep the pitcher in the ninth spot. After all, YOU HAVE EIGHT RELIEVERS. If you don't like using them, they shouldn't be on the roster.
Instead, Matheny ended up double-switching out his third, fourth and fifth hitters.
And don't even get me started on what happens when these games go extra innings.
3. Has Yasiel Puig played his final game for the Dodgers? He was optioned to Triple-A. My guess is he'll be back. He wouldn't pass through waivers, so it's unlikely he'll get traded in August. The weird thing: Since returning from the DL on June 21, Puig has hit .308/.390/.440, so while GM Farhan Zaidi said Puig was demoted because "the production from right field hasn't been at the same level it has been in past," you have to wonder what's really going on here. It could be as simple as them believing Josh Reddick is better or ... something else.
5. Bad debuts. Will Smith got the loss for the Giants in a 13-8 loss to the Phillies, in a game Madison Bumgarner started, and Fernando Abad relieved David Price in the eighth inning with two runners on a 4-2 lead and promptly served up a three-run homer to Robinson Cano as the Mariners rallied for a 5-4 victory. And then some of the notable hitters: Jay Bruce, Reddick, Matt Kemp, Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy went a combined 0-for-18.