October 30, 2013

Once again, #Cardinals - where's Waldo, I mean Miller?

Now that the World Series is over and the St. Louis Cardinals have fallen two wins short of their 12th championship, let me ask once more: Where was Shelby Miller?

The man pitched one waste inning in the Division Series, not at all in the LCS and not at all in the World Series. To me, it's clear that he was more "gassed" than general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny were pretending. Even more gassed than Edward Mujica.

(Update, Nov. 2: According to this blog, linking to comments or Tweets by both Joe Strauss and Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Miller was held out of the WS, and perhaps the LCS, because of being trade bait, and possibly part of a likely trade already being fleshed out.

Interesting speculation. But, if that's the case, and top brass really was that worried about an injury scuttling a trade, then, again, why have him on the roster at all?)
Let's be blunt. In essence, Mo (I'll blame him more than Matheny) has been lying about Miller. And, while he's done a good job of building this team, it's not the first time he's lied about a player's status with this team.

Basically, he lied about his plans for Albert Pujols a full year before Prince Albert officially became a free agent. Yes, yes, Pujols is gone and we got Michael Wacha in return. That's not the point. That doesn't hide the fat that Mo was lying about plans for him, and pretty blatantly.

Worse, this affected Matheny's tactical freedom, especially in the World Series, where, with the DH in play at least part of the time, and you needing more arms to be ready to throw. (That said, Matheny's repeated slow hook, demonstrated with new levels of mismanagement in Game 6, didn't need any further hinderance.)

What I'm getting at is this.

By no later than Game 4, Boston manager John Farrell clearly knew that Miller would not be pitching, and that it was highly unlikely Mujica would. So, he had a two-player, and more specifically, two-pitcher advantage over Matheny and could plan his in-game tactics in middle and late innings accordingly.

(Yes, Miller was, allegedly, warming up in the pen during Game 6. But, was that anything other than a courtesy from Matheny: "Hey, Shelby, warm up, so you can at least be on TV during the World Series."?)

Jake Westbrook had a poor second half of the season, but he wasn't gassed. He could have had one of the slots. Another bat ... anybody eligible from the 40-man roster could have been the other.

The dynamic duo has now spoken a bit on the issue. A bit. Matheny likened him to a fire extinguisher behind that sheet labeled "break glass as needed," while admitting before "Game 6 that he wasn't likely to pitch at all. Mozeliak called him "insurance," then got defensive, with this:
“Second-guessing the roster doesn’t have traction.”
Wrong. Per what I laid out above, and will below, it's got plenty of traction. Not just the roster, but the way this was handled.

Looking ahead to 2014 and beyond, this creates concerns.

Matheny still has a growth curve as a manager. He may be better than Don Mattingly, but that doesn't say a lot. The World Series merely gave more exposure to pitcher handling issues that were hinted at against the Dodgers. And, the Matheny-Mozeliak combo has larger player management issues to deal with.

This is all made yet more goofy by Mo's own admission that, between majors and minors, Wacha threw more total innings this year than Miller.

That said, in a few days, I'll have a hot stove league kickoff post about the Cardinals.  As the World Series showed, the team has batting order issues to address. Multiple ones and not just at shortstop. Informed Cardinal fans shouldn't kid themselves. While the pitching staff looks like it could and should be great for years to come, the lineup has a fair amount of work that needs to be done, to be honest. As I blogged earlier this week, this team needs some definite growth on base running. That's pretty much a mix of coaching and player mental discipline, both ultimately managerial issues. It has little to do with speed; smart baserunning includes knowing your skills and limits as a player, knowing that your manager, and your base coaches during in-game situations, know this too, and that you therefore should not regularly run through stop signs. It does mean that, if you don't have speed, you can learn hit-and-run batting/running as well as bunting. Etc., etc.

And, related to pitchers running out of gas at the end of regular season, or postseason, I've got a post on that coming up tomorrow.

Back to the header, though.

Some regular readers of my sports postings on this blog may think I'm harping on this issue too much. I don't. Ask yourself how smart it is to enter the World Series deliberately short-sheeting your own roster. Ask yourself also if it isn't a bit of arrogance to hope Boston wouldn't catch on sooner, or a bit of hopelessness to act as if you didn't have any options? (Since rosters are ultimately Matheny's call, that part of this issue, not the lying, is ultimately on him, not Mozeliak.)

So, no, it's not harping too much at all.

Let's hope that both Matheny and Mozeliak have learned from this for 2014.


That said, hats off, and beards on, to the Red Sox. They might have won had the Cards had Allen Craig at full health, at least given the way the bottom of the order was batting and Matheny handicapped himself. They might even have won without Matheny's self-handicapping. Another name for poor batting, after all, is good pitching.

At the same time, Boston fans owe the L.A. Dodgers a sloppy wet kiss for taking all those huge contacts off their hands last year. Without that, they likely don't pursue Napoli (remember, before the hips issue, they were offering three years with serious money) or Victorino.

Craig's injury aside, though, I would have liked to see the WS played without the self-handicapping.


PDiddie, aka Perry Hussein Dorrell said...

It was the beards.

Anonymous said...

In fairness, the Red Sox also engaged in some self-handicapping of their own: letting a relief pitcher hit in the 9th inning of a tie game and relying on Breslow in multiple high leverage situations both come to mind.