With the St. Louis Cardinals season ending prior to the playoffs for the first time in the Mike Matheny era, plenty of “what if?” articles have been written. Some look at specific tactical and roster decisions made or not made. Others considered key swing games in the standings.
All have their place, but for me, one particular item that remains stuck in my craw was brought to the forefront by discussion this past weekend at The Cardinal Nation’s message board. A poster expressed reservations about the manager not moving struggling Matt Holliday out of the third place in the lineup.
That reminded me of another lineup-related non-decision that I also think hurt the 2016 Cardinals.
The operative date is May 19.
One-quarter of the 2016 season was already complete. The Cardinals were stumbling along with a 21-19 record. Far worse, both the Cubs and Pirates were off to better starts, leaving St. Louis in third place, 8 1/2 games behind Chicago.
May 19 also marks the very first time rookie Aledmys Diaz batted second in Matheny’s lineup. To that point, the 26-year-old was buried, primarily in the eighth spot in the batting order.
From the start, the manager’s public comments indicated he wanted to ease pressure on the rookie, who was thrust into the lineup when Jhonny Peralta was injured this spring.
That seemed understandable for a few weeks, but as the wins and losses essentially alternated for the Cardinals, the bottom line is that 40 games of Diaz’ red-hot play had passed before he received a chance to make a greater contribution to the sputtering offense.
To that point, here were Diaz’ numbers:
- .376 batting average: #1 on the Cardinals by 53 points
- .403 on-base percentage: #1 by 13 points
- .648 slugging: #1 by 53 points
- 1.051 OPS: #1 by 115 points
With this example, I have to agree with those who assert that Matheny was very slow to react.
One is left to wonder forever if the Cardinals could have won a few more of those early-season contests had the hot-hitting Diaz had been batting above eighth sooner.
With a team that painfully ended its season just one win short of the playoffs, the questions are only natural – even if there are no answers.
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