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Blame Matheny For Bunts, But NOT September Lineup Decisions…

The St. Louis Cardinals posted another thrilling win by scoring two late and one really late to take down the Brewers 3-2 last night. Until Jon Jay’s RBI single and Matt Holliday’s dive, it looked like today’s narrative would again be focused on the lackluster offense in “the ‘lou.” Instead, the story is the grit and determination of the Redbirds.

It was nearly the Mad Mad Bunting of Mad Mike Matheny.

After lacing a leadoff double in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied at two runs apiece, a fired up Yadier Molina left the game for pinch runner Tommy Pham. Peter Bourjos was at the plate. Matheny called for the bunt. Called strike one. Matheny called for the bunt again. Foul, strike two.

It should be noted that at this point in the at-bat, Bourjos looked more focused on bunting for a hit than getting down a clean sacrifice bunt. Or maybe he just looked that bad. Regardless, the count was 0-2 and the bunt was surely no longer “on”…right?

Wrong. Matheny called for the bunt…and Bourjos awkwardly fouled off strike three. Pham remained at second base until eventually being stranded there. Bourjos — and more importantly, Matheny — had failed to move the runner over to set up a game-winning sacrifice fly situation.

This has been the Achilles’ heel of Mike Matheny’s managing career thus far — his irritating loyalty to the bunt in any and all situations. Cards fans moan and groan, with much gnashing of teeth, every time a runner gets into scoring position. They know what’s coming.

And yet, Matheny’s explanation of his decision to bunt actually made a bit of sense.

The Cardinals had been struggling to get a big hit, any hit, most of the game (honestly, for the last 38 innings), and they needed to play some small ball there. Combined with the fact that Bourjos had been working on bunting before the game…okay, I’ll give you a pass on that one. I don’t like it…but we have bigger fish to fry.

Like why in the hell the offense has recently struggled so much to get that big hit — or string together any hits — in the first place?

The popular approach is to blame Matheny’s lineup decisions. To follow this logic, Daniel Descalso and Mark Ellis should never start a game. Kolten Wong should play at all times. And Peter Bourjos should start in center field in any and all ballparks.

The problem is, the popular options aren’t hitting, and Mike Matheny appears to be searching…for someone, anyone, that can hit consistently in September and give his team a boost. Let’s take a look at the numbers for a few Cardinal players over their last ten games…

Jon Jay, .216 BA, 2 BB, 8 Hits, 37 ABs
Kolten Wong, .235 BA, 1 BB, 8 Hits, 34 ABs
Peter Bourjos, .190 BA, 0 BB, 4 Hits, 21 ABs
Daniel Descalso, .286 BA, 6 BB, 6 Hits, 21 ABs

The numbers in red indicate the highest total in the group…a group that isn’t hitting much overall, but is clearly being led by Descalso, the favorite whipping boy of the St. Louis fan base.

And of course there’s Pete Kozma and Mark Ellis — whose last ten games date back to March 31st and early August, respectively — in September alone…

Pete Kozma, .300, 1 BB, 3 Hits, 10 ABs
Mark Ellis, .000, 0 BB, 0 Hits, 8 ABs

The point is, no one is hitting with any convincing consistency, with the possible exception of Descalso, who nearly gets Mike Matheny tarred and feathered when his name appears in the lineup. Not only does Mike not have a reliable and consistent starting second base option in September, he doesn’t have a number two hitter either.

Sure, you could say the reason Bourjos and Wong aren’t hitting much is because they aren’t getting at-bats…but in Bourjos’ last five games since September 12th, he’s been given 14 ABs. He’s only connected for two hits and posted zero walks. Wong’s numbers are nearly identical, with 14 ABs in his last five games since September 10th, one hit, and one walk.

The problem isn’t who Matheny is starting…it’s that those who start don’t hit. And while that doesn’t include the standard three through five guys (Holliday, Adams, Peralta), it does seem to include Yadier Molina all too often lately.

In September, Molina is working on a slash line of .224/.281/.276. Yes, his value behind the plate makes him more than valuable enough to put in the lineup every night, so let’s not pretend we’re suggesting Matheny bench Yadier Molina…but his bat isn’t getting it done, especially for a hitter routinely slotted in the five and/or six spot in the order.

When the number two hitter isn’t producing for Holliday et al, the five/six guy has to produce when Holliday, Adams, and Peralta get on base in front of him. Yadi hasn’t been able to do that consistently since returning from surgery. And when that happens…well…in St. Louis, you just live with the results and try to scratch out games, because there is no way we’re benching Molina no matter what he’s hitting.

But maybe we could move him down in the order…? Maybe seventh so a guy like Oscar Taveras or Randall Grichuk can flash some power in that six spot for a change…?

Bottom line is this…blame Matheny for bunting, and blame him for making ridiculously stubborn pitching decisions, and certainly blame him for some odd and still-puzzling pinch-hit decisions late in games…

But when it comes to the lineup, it’s not WHO Matheny is starting that’s the problem…it’s that those who ARE starting aren’t hitting…none of them…well, none of them not named Matt or Jhonny, anyway.

It’s time to blame the players.

(cue the #FireMabry madness…)

— GO CARDS!!!

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