This weekend’s series didn’t do anything to dispel the notion that both the Reds and Cardinals have excellent teams that are evenly matched. St. Louis won Friday night and the Reds won Saturday. Sunday’s rubber match went into extra innings. That’s as close as a series can get.
And while there was plenty of blame to go around for the Reds’ loss on Sunday (failed bunts, base running confusion, pitching and fielding breakdowns, forgotten out counts, and on) one difference that was made obvious by the post-game comments was the urgency with which both managers approached this series.
Mike Matheny managed like it was the post-season.
Maybe he suspects the young Cardinals pitchers can’t keep up their current brilliance and wants to win every game now while they can.
Maybe he judges that games between the two NL Central rivals – even in June – have an elevated importance.
Maybe that sense of determination has become part of the Cardinals’ DNA over the years – an organization that has won two World Series in the past decade. Former St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa had this to say after watching the Cardinals play on Saturday: “They get it. They really compete every day with a lot of urgency.”
In the other dugout, Dusty Baker managed like it was just another regular season series. Instead of double-switching when he brought Aroldis Chapman into the game for his ninth inning role, to allow for the possibility of having the Cuban Missile flatten the Cardinals for a second inning, Baker settled for the same-old, same-old.
“We don’t have a one- or two-man bullpen,” said the Reds’ manager when asked after the loss about a second inning for Chapman. Baker is trying to develop the rest of his bullpen. “We’ve got to get those guys together. We’ve got other guys to do that job.”
Baker managed the end-game cautiously. “We really couldn’t chance that. You really can’t hurt your two horses at the end by going away from the other guys.”
Meanwhile, Mike Matheny had Trevor Rosenthal pitch two crucial, dominant – decisive – innings. “I was ready to go more, even more than two if I had to,” said the 23-year-old Rosenthal.
As of today, the Cardinals hold a season-best, 4-game division lead over the Reds.
The two rivals still have 99 more regular season games to play, ten against each other. Plenty of season left. I’m not prescribing panic. By October, maybe Dusty Baker’s slow-but-steady approach will have been proven to be the right medicine.
Right now, however, the organization’s overall complacency feels too much like a sedative, designed simply to numb the pain.