Cards' Matheny ponders just missing World Series


Cards' Matheny ponders just missing World Series

ST. LOUIS (AP) While watching the World Series on the big screen, Mike Matheny wondered how it all went wrong.

Three days after the St. Louis Cardinals squandered a 3-1 lead in the NL championship series and punished themselves with a red-eye flight home, their rookie manager said he hadn't slept much. He also hadn't had much time to dissect the precipitous fall.

``I mean, we're going into Game 5 in a really nice spot,'' Matheny said Thursday. ``You can't help but think about `That could be us right now.'''

Then again, it also was important to remember how fortunate they had been. The Cardinals squeaked into the postseason as the second wild card, rallied to beat the Braves in the one-game playoff and erased a six-run deficit against the Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS.

``Guess what, when we're playing Game 1 of the NLCS there were a whole bunch of teams saying `That could be us,''' Matheny said. ``Grateful, but not content by any means.''

Matheny's team failed on many levels in dropping the last three games to the Giants by a combined score of 20-1. It scored six or more runs in all but one of its postseason victories, and totaled six runs in its six postseason losses.

Matheny said it was somewhat reassuring to see San Francisco's Barry Zito shut down the Detroit Tigers in Game 1, after the left-hander carved up the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLCS.

``Game 5 was pivotal, I mean, you guys know that,'' Matheny said. ``You're watching the radar gun thinking `How is this happening?'''

Frustrating, too. They almost got to Zito in Game 5. One more hit.

``Somebody gets that big hit, there's a good chance Zito's chased from that game,'' Matheny said. ``We've got the bases loaded, we get a big hit, put up some runs, I guarantee their bullpen's hot. And if we can sack a couple on top that just got used pretty heavily the night before.''

Matheny gets high marks after a season of learning on the job. Before replacing Tony La Russa last November, the former four-time Gold Glove catcher had zero managing experience.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy was impressed.

``I wish I could tell you there's a difference,'' Bochy said before Game 5. ``Mike's done a tremendous job, and that's a tough act to follow when you're coming in after Tony and do what he's done.''

General manager John Mozeliak credited Matheny for staying positive during midseason downturns.

``It could have easily gone in the other direction but instead he kept to his plan, stayed disciplined and rode it out,'' Mozeliak said. ``I thought he was very impressive all the way across the board.''

Players found it easy to shut the door in the manager's office and discuss whatever was on their minds.

``Mike, he's always positive,'' center fielder Jon Jay said. ``That's the No. 1 thing. That's something that definitely rubs off on us.''

Third baseman David Freese said Matheny wasn't big on speeches.

``But when he speaks, it's meaningful,'' Freese said. ``He trusts his players. He's got our back, from Day 1. That's cool to see.''

Now, if they can just get to the bottom of the maddening series of booms and busts.

The Cardinals scored in double digits 12 times during the regular season, and 42 times they mustered two or fewer runs. They were 76-19 when scoring three or more runs and 12-55 when scoring three or fewer.

What happened against the Giants was a repeat from any month you picked from April to October.

``I couldn't say it didn't look like us because we saw this all season at times,'' Matheny said. ``There were just times when it wasn't there and it didn't matter what kind of batting practice, extra work, or meetings we had. This team went in ruts together and we were just hoping for that spark, somebody to get it going.''

Matheny had no issues with the day-to-day effort, or the team's ability to bounce back from crushing defeats like a 19-inning loss to the Pirates, which actually was a takeoff point for the Cardinals and the beginning of the end for Pittsburgh.

``We got beat and it was dead in here and we came back the next day and it was like it never happened,'' Matheny said.

``Production's a different topic. Sometimes it's here, sometimes it's not. We're going to obviously try to address through the winter what could potentially be done to have a little more consistency to bring that brilliance out a little more often.''

An injury to Matt Holliday factored into the NLCS meltdown. Holliday batted .200 in the NLCS with two RBIs and no extra-base hits while battling a back injury that kept him out of the lineup in Game 6.

``It was the worst I'd seen all season for him and his swing,'' Matheny said. ``I just couldn't let him try, he wasn't going to help us.

``When we got down to the end, he was in bad shape.''

Unlike last fall, when Albert Pujols, pitching coach Dave Duncan and La Russa all departed, there aren't a lot of question marks. The Cardinals aren't likely to re-sign 16-game winner Kyle Lohse, heading into free agency after the best year of his career, or Lance Berkman off an injury-plagued year.

Though Lance Lynn was an 18-game winner his first year in the rotation, the team has prescribed a strict training regimen for the right-hander. Youngsters Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal will prepare to pursue rotation spots. Utilityman Matt Carpenter will concentrate on second base in the winter to possibly challenge Daniel Descalso for the job.

Matheny will be working to get better, too. He keeps a journal detailing what went right, what he could have done better, and does more writing while revisiting an excruciating loss.

``You've got to understand when I caught probably I could have second-guessed myself 50-100 times a game,'' Matheny said. ``There are times during the season when I'd have been an idiot to look at `I did this and it didn't work, what could I have done differently?'

``To me, that's the only way you learn.''

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

In what is perhaps the most unexpected Stanley Cup Final pairing in recent memory, the Washington Capitals and the Las Vegas Golden Knights are going to make history this year.

Either it is going to be the first expansion team to win a title in their first season, or it will be a team looking to end a 27-year title drought for one of the biggest cities in the United States.

But what it will not be is the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup.

Going even farther back than the Capitals last Stanley Cup appearance (1998), the Georgetown Hoyas and UNLV Rebels met in the 1991 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Sin City took the first, and up until now, the only postseason bout between these two cities. The Larry Johnson-led University of Las Vegas squad powered right past the Hoyas in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

[D.C. sports and Second Rounds, I know right?]

Coming fresh off the NCAA title in 1990, UNLV waltzed right to the Final Four before meeting their demise against Duke. It also ended up being the last game for Dikembe Mutombo in a Georgetown uniform.

While in all likely-hood this will not be the final game/ series for Alex Ovechkin rocking the red, it may be his last and only chance for him to play this far into a postseason.

In the past two seasons, Vegas has gone from zero professional teams to having a Stanley Cup contender, a WNBA franchise, and lined up to take over the Oakland Raiders in 2020. 

Now time for the Golden Knights' Cinderella story to come up a little bit short.