The Cardinals aren’t accustomed to stretches of mediocrity, and certainly not to reports of clubhouse unrest.
The prospect of a third straight year without a postseason berth has spelled the end for manager Mike Matheny.
Matheny was stunningly fired Saturday night following an 8-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, a defeat that dropped St. Louis to 47-46 and seven games back of the NL Central-leading Cubs.
Bench coach Mike Shildt was named the team’s interim manager. Hitting coach John Mabry and assistant hitting coach Bill Mueller were also fired.
The Cardinals haven’t missed three straight postseasons since 1997-99.
“These decisions are never easy, but we felt that a change in leadership was necessary as the team prepares to enter into the second half of the season,” Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said. “I would like to thank Mike for his exceptional commitment and devotion to the Cardinals organization, including many fond memories of our years working together.”
This will be the club’s first midseason managerial change since Joe Torre was replaced by Mike Jorgensen in 1995.
Matheny went 591-473 as manager, and his tenure included a loss to the Boston Red Sox in the 2013 World Series. Matheny was a Gold Glove Award-winning catcher with St. Louis from 2000-04 before getting his first managerial job with the club prior to the 2012 season.
The Cardinals made the playoffs in Matheny’s first four years before missing the past two postseasons.
Near the end of last season, St. Louis chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. defended and praised Matheny, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the manager was “the right guy to lead us into the future.”
That future ended 93 games into this season. The Cardinals have underperformed on offense and struggled in recent weeks amid reports of locker room discontent — primarily between struggling outfielder Dexter Fowler and Matheny.
This season started with promise. The Cardinals acquired cleanup hitter Marcell Ozuna from the Miami Marlins during the offseason, and they had high hopes for right-hander Alex Reyes in his return to the rotation after missing all of last season following Tommy John surgery.
Ozuna has failed to live up to lofty expectations, entering Saturday night’s game hitting .270 and with 10 home runs. Reyes missed the first two months of the season while rehabbing, then was lost again for the year after injuring his shoulder in his first start back with St. Louis.
Fowler, in his second season since leaving the Chicago Cubs to join St. Louis, has been at the center of the Cardinals’ offensive woes — hitting just .169 entering Saturday’s game and the focal point of reported clubhouse tension.
Matheny has limited the outfielder’s playing time of late, and Mozeliak recently said he couldn’t defend Fowler’s “effort and his energy level.” The Athletic cited multiple sources in reporting that Matheny and Fowler have barely spoken in months. The Athletic also reported this week about a rocky relationship between veteran closer Bud Norris and rookie setup man Jordan Hicks.
It was the rise of the 2016 World Series champion Cubs, who have won the Central in each of the last two years, that put Matheny’s future in doubt with many St. Louis fans. The Cardinals finished 17 ½ games back of Chicago in 2016 and nine games back of Chicago in third place a year ago — due in large part of St. Louis’ 4-15 record against its rival to the north. Matheny’s in-game moves were also routinely criticized by advocates of advanced analytics.
Matheny agreed to a three-year contract extension after the 2016 season to keep him with St. Louis through the 2020 season.
Since DeWitt Jr. bought the team in 2005, Matheny was one of only two managers for the Cardinals — along with Tony La Russa.
The 47-year-old Matheny won three of his four Gold Gloves with St. Louis and was part of three postseason efforts, including a World Series. He became a team leader playing for La Russa, who retired just days after leading the team to his second World Series title in 2011. Matheny was announced as La Russa’s replacement later that month.