If the St. Louis Cardinals want to win the World Series this year, they must win two more games. They cannot afford to lose one and must tackle this challenge on the road at Fenway Park.
We can safely assume the Cardinals do want to win the World Series because they’re currently competing in the World Series. They want to win it very much and will do whatever they can to ensure victory each of the next two evenings.
This presents a timeless baseball paradox – there is only so much a team can do to “amp” up their performance. The Cardinals need to win but they still must bat in order, field the ball only when it is hit to them, and face the Boston hitters as they come. It is a practice in controlled, or at least managed, energy.
Our own Jack Moore made a incredibly insightful point earlier this season, noting that baseball is not like other team sports in that you cannot “funnel” big moments or a larger percentage of plays to your best and brightest players. Carlos Beltran can only hit so many times – about as many as Pete Kozma.
This is true in the grand scheme of the things as well as in the short term. Baseball is played and evaluated on the macro scale, for the most part. The long regular season serves to iron out the wrinkles and often teams can get away with losing one game now in the interests of winning two down the road.
In the playoffs, that doesn’t happen. When your team is down 3-2 in a best of seven series, there is no long play. There is only doing everything possible to try and get a win today so you might try to get a win tomorrow.
As Will Leitch wrote yesterday, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has not presided over his club with that same back-to-the-wall urgency this series. He let his starter face a few too many batters in Game Five and seems reluctant to seize the moment with decisive substitutions and pitching changes.
Perhaps there is an element of naiveté here on the part of the young manager or perhaps it is just for a lack of options. One man’s steadfast faith in “his guys” is another man’s total lack of viable options. A
Matheny’s attempted shaking things up with his lineup for Game Five, throwing Shane Robinson into the mix, hitting him second while dropping Carlos Beltran to the cleanup spot.
There are only so many buttons a baseball manager can push. Each managerial power move sets off a chain reaction of countermoves and double switches and only taxes what is a limited number of options, given the scarcity of subs available. A baseball manager cannot juggle line combinations mid-game like a hockey coach nor can he mix-and-match offense for defense subs like the end of a basketball game.
Eventually the players need to play. Blaming Mike Matheny for leaving Adam Wainwright in two batters too long completely overlooks the fact that Adam Wainwright simply cannot walk Stephen Drew. Matheny explained why he stucked with his ace in a postgame interview:
“We like how (Wainwright) was throwing,” Matheny said of Wainwright, who struck out 10. “We like the fact he had a couple of strikeouts and a pop-up in the previous three at-bats and like the way he was going about it to get us out of that.”
No matter if he’s pitching the game of his life or struggling to get 15 outs so he ca take a shower, so long as there is air in his lungs and blood in his veins, Wainwright walking Drew in the sixth inning of a World Series game cannot not happen – but it did.
Tonight, the Cardinals turn to Michael Wacha to save their season. If he falters or looks like he might begin to falter, Mike Matheny will have a full assortment of relievers to choose from, including one of Lance Lynn or Joe Kelly, to say nothing of Missing Person Shelby Miller.
Might it be too late for Mike Matheny to switch gears and throw every he has at the Red Sox? No, no it is not. 28 other teams would kill for the chance to be down 3-2 in the World Series right now. It is at this time that anything can happen. Matheny cannot make it happen, not on his own. The Cardinals bats need to show up and make the manager’s job easy.
Just ask John Farrell – anyone can look like a genius when you get Jon Lester dealing and David Ortiz crushing everything in sight. No need to stomp on the accelerator when you’re already cruising at highway speed.