The St. Louis Cardinals dropped the final three games of the World Series to the Boston Red Sox, making it two consecutive years after the ecstasy of 2011 where the Cardinals have lost three straight playoff games to agonizingly finish their season.
The Cardinals demise in the World Series could not be plainer. The team could not hit to save its life. The offense was streaky all year, and the lack of power was concerning at times down the stretch. The Cards needed a hitter to get on a hot streak for the postseason and no one really did. Matt Holliday was the most productive Cardinal batter in the World Series, but it was hardly a hot streak by his standards.
The team that averaged over 4.8 runs per game in the regular season managed only 14 runs in the six World Series games. The Cardinals hit a paltry .214 in the Series with runners in scoring position after posting a record setting mark of .330 in such situations during the regular season. Whether it was regression to the mean, or the Cardinals inability to handle the mounting pressure, the team’s formula for scoring runs fell apart in the Fall Classic.
It became obvious that the Cardinals would not be able to string together multiple hits in a row against the solid Red Sox pitching and that they needed to find another way to score. But, the team got no run production from the bottom of the lineup all series, despite the designated hitter being in play for half of the games. The Cards only had two homers in the six games, both solo shots by Holliday. The club desperately needed to manufacture runs with small ball or via a power surge of home runs, but they were incapable of doing either. The lack of versatility and flexibility in their offense was their undoing.
Mike Matheny is so poised and driven that it is easy to forget that 2013 was only his second year of managing on any level. Many big league managers dream of the success that Matheny has been able to attain in his first two seasons. But there were some questionable decisions with pitching changes that showed Matheny has room for improvement, specifically in Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead. In the sixth inning with the game tied, Lance Lynn allowed a two out single to Dustin Pedroia, which brought up David Ortiz. Lynn had pitched a solid game, but the Cardinals could not get Ortiz out all series. Considering the game was tied and it was a high leverage situation, conventional wisdom might have suggested bringing in a lefty specialist to come in, retire Ortiz, and get out of the inning. The Cardinals had veteran Randy Choate in their bullpen for those specific situations anyway, and wunderkind southpaw Kevin Siegrist would have been another option.
Matheny instead chose to leave Lynn in and, being extra careful, he walked Ortiz on four pitches. That put two on with the less-threatening Jonny Gomes at the plate. Matheny then chose to bring in reliever Seth Maness, not the club’s best reliever, but a solid groundball pitcher nonetheless. But Maness made a mistake and left a pitch up and Gomes did not miss the opportunity, connecting on a homer to give the Red Sox a three run lead. It is easier to pick apart the pitching moves in that inning after the fact than it is to actually execute them in real-time pressure, but that sequence seemed peculiar at the time and it was a turning point in the series as the Cardinals never truly regained momentum after that play. Matheny is a solid manager and he is probably on trajectory to becoming a great manager but while he obviously should not be at fault for the team’s lack of offense in this series, he is also not completely excused of blame for the loss.
The Cardinals have an interesting offseason ahead. Many of their key players are set to return along with all the promising youth. The Cardinals figure to be in the thick of things for the foreseeable future and they will likely be the favorites in the National League next year. But there are some very difficult choices ahead for the front office, foremost of which; what to do with free agent veteran Carlos Beltran, what to do with Allen Craig and the logjam at first base, and addressing the suddenly crowded pitching rotation. The good news is that general manager John Mozeliak should have the money and resources to make whatever moves he thinks are best.