With one game left in front of his team before the All-Star break, Mike Matheny hadn’t yet stopped to fully look back at the big picture of the entire first half of the season. That said, he was optimistic about what he’s seen over the last couple of weeks.
“I like a lot of the things I’ve seen of our club lately,” said Matheny before Sunday’s victory. “We’ve seen some that youthful excitement, bringing in a couple of guys that we just didn’t know would be a part of our club this year being integral parts of what we’re trying to do. I see our bullpen–just look at the different components, the bullpen coming through and the back end. Great starts. Waino was terrific yesterday.
“Everything that we need to see–we’re seeing the offense that wasn’t maybe quite there early in the season. You put all those pieces together, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be where we want to be. Hopefully, the guys finish that off today and go in with a good taste in their mouth about what our club has in front of us.”
The Cardinals did just that and finished at the All-Star break with a record with 43 wins and 45 losses. Since their coaching change on June 9th, the team has gone 17-13 and since June 27th, they have gone 8-5 in taking the series in Arizona, against Washington, and splitting with Miami. Of those 30 games, they have seen their offense rise–scoring 3 or fewer runs just seven times.
“Look at our club right now,” continued Matheny. “Tommy Pham doesn’t make our team out of Spring Training, he’s one of our most impactful bats here for a consistent period of time. Our starting shortstop (Paul DeJong) was a guy that wasn’t on our team and we didn’t know was in the immediate plans. And a guy at first base (Luke Voit), that wasn’t even invited to Spring Training, who’s slugging 1.000. His OPS is off the charts at what he’s doing right now. It’s one of those things, I think guys are constantly reminded that we’re just one piece away maybe from going in a positive direction, but you need to produce because there’s always somebody out there begging for that opportunity.”
What could that one piece be?
“Well, I think at any one particular time a piece might be Luke Voit, right? A piece, Paul DeJong or Tommy Pham. The names we’ve already brought up. It’s not necessarily that we have one piece that’s not here. That’s not the point. The point is one guy comes in, all of sudden he could be the spark that gets things going. So we’ve been watching that happen already.”
In fact, Matheny sees the opportunity before his team and harkened back to the not so distant past of another Cardinals squad that defied the odds.
“This could be one of the greatest seasons of any of those guys careers because of how much we’ve been written off,” said Matheny. “That to me is such an exciting thought about us putting something together and pushing hard, remembering all the things we’ve already gone through in half a season.”
“Never forget–I love the fact that we can look up there and see that banner flying for the 2011 team and realize in September it was ten games, right? Just keep playing the game. Keep playing it right and this stuff will work out, but we’ve got to continue to believe in ourselves and each other. It’s going to be a fun run if we can do that.”
Over the All-Star break, Matheny plans to watch Carlos Martinez and Yadier Molina play in the exhibition and throw some batting practice to his own kids. And like most, he also plans to get away for a while.
“This has been a tough a run leading up to the All-Star break as I can ever remember,” said Matheny. “Our guys, excited for them to get away. I want them to be able to shut down and think as little about it as possible, to be honest with you. I think their minds need a break more so than their bodies. Hopefully, they’ll invest into their families, invest into themselves a little bit over the next few days.”
photo credit: Scott Kane, Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports, Bill Greenblatt/UPI