Top 5 Cardinals Stories of 2014

This post is the December UCB project.  It was supposed to be posted yesterday, but life intervened and it got put off.  So I am supposed to name my top 5 Cardinals stories of the 2014 season.  Tough to pick 5 and tough to rank them as well.  I tend to be a non-conformist, so some of my top 5 may be a little different than others, or at least take a different slant on the same story.  Here we go, I start at #5.

5.  Trading Allen Craig and Joe Kelly.

General Manager John Mozeliak is the kind of GM who keeps secrets well.  Not a lot of hints or leaks about what he is doing.  Having said that, this trade really came out of nowhere.  Not that it was a terrible trade, or that something didn’t need to be done about Allen Craig.  I had been hoping that something would be done, but I was thinking along the lines of less playing time for Craig.  So when this trade happened, I was a little bit stunned.  Stunned, but not surprised.  The difference?  I was not surprised that Mozeliak felt he needed to take this level of action.  It is a shame really, because reducing Craig’s playing time and increasing the playing time for Oscar Taveras seemed the simplest solution to the problem.  However, it may be that that solution was not feasible given the circumstances.  One, it would have required Mozeliak to assert greater authority over Mike Matheny’s lineup decisions, something for which he has often expressed his distaste.  Second, it would require a level of effort that Mozeliak probably didn’t want to take on.  Not to mention the PR implications of overruling your manager on basic day to day tasks.  Not a precedent he wanted to set I imagine.  This of course assumes Mike Matheny would not have been on board with reduced playing time for Craig, a fair assumption I would think, given statements made in public by Matheny, both before and after the trade.

Alas, the trade required someone else to go as well, and that someone else was Joe Kelly.  While Kelly was not the best member of the starting rotation, he was the most colorful.  What a fun guy Joe was, and I miss that sorely.  The pre-game interview video bombs, the costumes, the antics (who can forget the National Anthem Standoff?).  Great entertainment was lost by this trade.

Sigh.

4.  The acquisition of Jason Heyward.

Once #2 on this post happened, the need for a RFer became paramount.  Despite Mike Matheny’s great love for Randal Grichuk, having Grichuk as the primary RFer was not palatable on many levels.   The “rumors” of a potential Jason Heyward trade made the rounds for several weeks in November, and as nebulous as most rumors of this kind tend to be when involving the Cardinals, I had my doubts about it happening.  Generally when there is a hot stove rumor about the Cardinals, it more often than not is a red herring.  As I pointed out in #5 above, Mozeliak plays his cards close to the chest.  This one, happily, turned out not to be of the red herring variety.  I had hopes leading up to the trade, as I thought getting Heyward would be a coup.  Despite the fact that Heyward has not as yet lived up to his offensive potential, he is in fact one of the best, if not the best defensive right fielders in baseball.  As anyone who knows me or reads my posts regularly knows,  I am a huge fan of great defense.  Heyward is still young, and with a change of scene he may very well blossom as a hitter as well.  He certainly has the tools to do so.  I am very excited to see what he does in his new home.

Of course,  gaining anyone in a trade of this kind requires losing something.  What we lost is a member of our starting rotation and a pitching prospect.  Losing Shelby Miller is not without its drawbacks.  Shelby had been struggling, and there was no guarantee of a turnaround in 2015, but Shelby was beloved in St. Louis and rightly so.  He had been the Cardinals hot pitching prospect for many years, and hope still remained that he would turn out to be what he promised to be.  In the end, he was deemed expendable (the loss of his best friend, Joe Kelly, kind of muted his light anyway it seemed).  The other player in the trade, Tyrell Jenkins, was more of a lottery ticket, given his injury history and slow development through the system.  Given the pitching depth the Cardinals had, he was not a significant loss.

3.  The 2014 Postseason.

I made this an umbrella category, to combine both the NLDS and NLCS as one story.  One half of this story is the continuation of the Cardinals’ dominance over 3 time CY Young award winner Clayton Kershaw.  The Cardinals, more specifically Matt Carpenter, really appear to have Kershaw’s number.  Whether this is based on anything concrete, or merely just the vagaries of statistical luck, is unknown.  I tend to believe it’s the latter, but who knows.  I have to think at least a small part of Kershaw’s struggles has to be mental given his history with the Cardinals.  Baseball players aren’t robots, and even if the consistent pounding of Kershaw is just luck, the results have to wear on him just a little. Self-fulfilling prophecy?  The mind/matter conundrum is real.  But then again, such “curses” are often broken.  Stay tuned for next postseason (hopefully).

The NLCS.  What can one say? Michael Wacha in the 9th inning of Game 5 says it all.  It will be covered more expansively in #1 below.

Speaking of “curses”, the Giants against the Cardinals in the NLCS?  Is this going to be become a “thing”?

2.  The tragic death of Oscar Taveras.

This one was a blow.  For me personally it hit pretty hard.  I was an Oscar fan for sure, but that wasn’t the only reason.  It was the timing.  My mother had passed away 3 days before Oscar’s death.  The funeral was on the afternoon of the 26th, and I had been traveling back to my home from where the funeral took place, in my hometown, which is a 3 hour drive from my current place of residence.  I arrived home at approximately 6:30 pm CST.  I had been home less than 30 minutes when the first news of the accident broke on Twitter.  The first tweet I saw I thought might just be a Twitter hoax, at least I was hoping it was.  But as time passed and more and more tweets from some credible sources started to come across my feed, I knew it was no hoax.  The enormity of what happened hit me like a slap in the face that brings up a large red welt.  He was so young, and the last game he played in was just a matter of days in the past.  He had no time to even enjoy the off season.  So much promise and hope was extinguished just like that.  Poof.  Not only was Oscar gone, but so was a young woman who had yet to really live her life.

The news several weeks later that Oscar had been excessively intoxicated at the time of the crash made it all the more tragic.  It might have been avoided by more responsible behavior.  Did it make me angry?  Yes, it did, somewhat.  Most of us do some stupid things, though.  Many of us have done things we are lucky to have survived.  That fact doesn’t excuse it, it just makes it more real, and to an extent, explainable.  The hubris of the young, the feeling of invincibility, is a reality.  A tragic one in this case.

As many have rightly said, there is a lesson to be learned from this tragedy.  I hope that lesson has sunk in.

1.  The performance of Mike Matheny:  The birth of Mathenaging.

“Mathenaging” is a term that had its birth in the 2014 season.  Who precisely came up with it is not known to me.  Some say it had its genesis on the Cardinals blog Viva El Birdos.  Could be.  In any event it is a clever term, and one that many, including myself, have adopted.  It is basically a term to describe the bizarre, and often hair pulling inducing, managing style of Mike Matheny.  Mathenaging, in my definition at least, is made up of many parts.  These are some of the components.

1.  An inordinate amount of bunting, more often in the worst possible moments of a game by the worst possible hitters to be doing it.

2.  Improper use of pitching resources.  This includes leaving starting pitchers in too long, or in some cases removing them too soon;  using relievers with specialized skills in the wrong situations (using Randy Choate against right handed pitchers is one example); using relievers over and over excessively (Trevor Rosenthal four days in a row); using relievers to get one or two outs in a double switch when double switches are meant for longer appearances.

3.  Improper use of bench players.  This includes pinch hitting one of the worst hitters in high leverage situations (Daniel Descalso was a favorite for doing this); refusing to pinch hit the back up catcher late in the game when it was warranted (though in the case of Tony Cruz, it often wasn’t such a loss, but it is the principle of the thing); pinch hitting the wrong players in the wrong situations based on small sample size pitching match ups (Mark Ellis against Aroldis Chapman) or nonsensical reasons like “bat speed” (Peter Bourjos against the same Aroldis Chapman);

4.  Unnecessary double switches (see 2 above). Taking good hitters out in close or tie games for no good reason was a particular hair puller for me.

5.  Stubborn and ridiculous adherence to outmoded baseball thinking.  This is where the use of Michael Wacha in Game 5 comes in.  The game was on the line and Matheny had other options available to him other than a rusty Wacha.  Both Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez were available.  When asked after the game why he didn’t use Rosenthal, Matheny replied, “We can’t bring him in, in a tie-game situation. We’re on the road.”

Using Wacha in the highest leverage situation of the season, was the epitome of Mathenaging.  The cremè de la cremè if you will.  The nuking of all hopes for another trip to the World Series.  The Cardinals may not have made it even if a better decision had been made, but the odds were surely much better.

Don’t ask me about my optimism (or lack thereof) about the 2015 season.  If you do, you will get that quote in response.

So there are my top 5 stories.  Agree with them, don’t agree with them, throw stuff at your computer.  It’s your call.

Thank you for reading.

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  1. December Project: Top 5 Stories of 2014 — United Cardinal Bloggers

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