LOS ANGELES -- Of all the decisions Mike Matheny makes in his position as Cardinals manager, there seems to be none more scrutinized than the ones that appear on his lineup card. Whether it's through questions from the media or passionate discourse by fans on social media, the batting order has proven to generate plenty of debate.
Matheny has now used 33 lineups, and none more than two times. He's had five position players make a start in at least four spots in the order. The Cardinals had similar inconsistencies with their lineup last year, but that was largely the result of so many injuries. This year, it's by design.
Eleven of the Cards' 13 position players have started at least 16 games. Matheny has found the mix-and-match approach to be successful in exploiting matchups and keeping all his hitters sharp.
Designing those lineups, though, is a process perhaps more complex than most realize and often begins days before. Prior to the Cardinals' series finale in Los Angeles, Matheny offered a detailed timeline of how he came up with Sunday's lineup in order to illustrate the method involved for each one he writes. Here's how it came together:
• The rough draft of Sunday's lineup is produced before the team's three-game series in Los Angeles even starts. With an off-day coming on Monday, Matheny likes the option of getting veteran catcher Yadier Molina consecutive days off. He pencils this in as a start for Eric Fryer and alerts Molina to the likelihood that he'll sit on Sunday.
• Still a few days out, Matheny then watches video of lefty Alex Wood, Sunday's scheduled starter. He looks for tendencies and studies pitch repertoire to determine potential favorable matchups. He'll also solicit feedback from the Cards' baseball operations staff, which provides Matheny with pages of data.
• From that, Matheny jots down his first attempt, which he then circulates to the coaching staff for additional input. He welcomes their feedback and often adjusts his rough draft accordingly. Rarely, however, does that first sketch of the lineup stick. And this is no exception.
• While watching the first two games of the series play out, Matheny had his decision to sit Molina reaffirmed, but individual performances led him to change course in other ways.
Matheny decides that he doesn't want Kolten Wong to sit on both Saturday and Sunday, not after Wong's two-triple game on Friday. Though his first draft had Jedd Gyorko drawing the start at second base, Matheny writes down another option that would include an unorthodox left-on-left matchup in an effort to help Wong sustain some positive momentum.
That's not the only change Matheny considers. Jeremy Hazelbaker's pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning on Saturday may have been irrelevant in the outcome, but it prompts Matheny to reconsider his left-field plans, too.
• Before he leaves Dodger Stadium on Saturday, Matheny has three lineups he's still considering. He settles on one before going to bed so he can text it to his team. It's an exercise Matheny began in 2015, and one that was well received. By sending out the lineup the night before, it allows players to plan their next day's work accordingly.
"That one," Matheny notes, "came right down to the end."
So how did it all work out?
Late lineup additions Wong and Hazelbaker each went 1-for-4, with Hazelbaker scoring a run, while Matheny's push to hit Aledmys Diaz fifth for matchup purposes netted the rookie shortstop a sacrifice fly. Molina parlayed a day off into a key pinch-hit at-bat in which he drove in the go-ahead run in a 5-2 win.