On October 16, after the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2015 season came to a disappointing close, manager Mike Matheny acknowledged the following during his post-mortem press briefing, as reported by the Post-Dispatch.
“Does this come down to us possibly overworking guys? Possibly. Yeah,” Matheny said.
Is this an excuse or an explanation of why a 100-win team could only claim one additional victory in the playoffs?
Many, myself included, believe the Cardinals used so many bullets to ensure they won the Central Division and avoided the Wild Card game and were so weakened by injuries that they did not have enough left in October.
It may have been most evident up the middle. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta led the Cardinals with 155 games played and second baseman Kolten Wong appeared in 150 contests. Their slow second halves continued in October. The two up-the-middle infield starters batted an identical .143 in the NLDS, combining for just four hits versus 11 strikeouts in 28 combined at-bats.
In fact, in his two years with St. Louis, the 33-year-old Peralta has logged the two busiest seasons of his entire 13-year MLB career at 157 and 155 games played, respectively. This season, Peralta was voted a starter on the NL All-Star team after leading the Cardinals in home runs (13) and RBI (46) while batting .298 in the first half, before dropping to just 4/25/.243 afterward.
At the time of his September injury, catcher Yadier Molina had appeared in 136 of St. Louis’ 149 games, putting him on pace for a career-high 148 games played. Even without the 13 games lost, Molina still finished just 17 at-bats short of his busiest-ever season hitting and just 27 innings short of his career-high in innings caught – all at the age of 33.
Though it was noble for Molina to come back and try to play injured in the NLDS, it was not successful. He went just 1-for-8 before aggravating his torn thumb ligament, leaving Game 3 and sitting out Game 4 before undergoing surgery. Earlier this month, a second procedure was deemed necessary, putting his readiness for the start of 2016 in jeopardy.
Despite missing four games and taking five days off in May due to ‘extreme fatigue,’ third baseman Matt Carpenter still played in 154 games. After being the offensive leader of the club during the regular season, he went cold in October. Carpenter batted 4-for-17, .235, against the Cubs in the NLDS.
Switching to pitching, it cannot be proven that workload was the reason that the youngest three of the Cardinals’ five starters were either unavailable or ineffective in October, but it certainly could have been a major contributing factor.
Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha pitched career-highs in innings before the former suffered a September shoulder injury that ended his season. The performance of both Wacha and Lance Lynn dropped off as the season neared its end. Lynn’s decline was to the point his start in the NLDS was passed over. Shortly after, the need for Tommy John surgery was announced, a move that will keep Lynn out for all of 2016. Wacha took the mound for Game 2 but was ineffective and was saddled with the loss.
In the bullpen, the impact of the early loss of setup man Jordan Walden was felt all season long. After heavy use, starting with pitching in nine of the team’s first 12 games, Walden suffered a biceps injury that ended his season after just one month of play.
Matheny strongly relied on Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness to help fill the void. The former went on to lead all of Major League Baseball with 81 appearances and the latter also set a new career high at 76 games pitched. Neither was impressive in the NLDS. Siegrist’s three home runs allowed in three innings was especially painful and he took the season-ending loss in Game 4. (The lefty had yielded just four home runs during the entire regular season.)
With an improved bench (Brayan Pena, Jedd Gyorko, Brandon Moss, Tommy Pham and Greg Garcia) plus potentially more pitching depth (with three reserve starters in Tim Cooney, Tyler Lyons and Marco Gonzales), there can at least be hope that this problem will be less severe in 2016.
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