Photo: Jonathan Daniel (Getty)

The St. Louis Cardinals axed manager Mike Matheny Saturday night, following an 8-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. The loss was their fourth in five games, and 10th in their last 15 games. The Cardinals are now 7.5 games back in the NL Central. The Cardinals announced Matheny’s firing via a team release late Saturday night:

Matheny was just the second manager the Cardinals have had since 1996, and the first to be fired midseason since 1995, when Joe Torre was fired after 47 games. But unlike Torre, whose Cardinals were 20-27 at the time of his firing, Matheny was still the manager of a winning team Saturday night, albeit one sliding further towards irrelevance as a third straight non-playoff season looks increasingly likely. Matheny’s mid-season dismissal suggests that the organization both believes this season can be salvaged, and that Matheny is definitively not the man for the job.

They’re probably right about that. For all of the Cardinals’ ballyhooed play-the-right-way bullcrap, their 2018 edition is sloppy as shit. They’ve got the second-lowest fielding percentage in the majors, and rank near the bottom of the league in run scoring percentage and stolen base percentage, and near the top of the league in outs on the base path, per Baseball Reference. And they’ve got the kind of middling offense that won’t make up the difference, after spending the winter overhauling their roster following last season’s disappointing 83-win season, their lowest win total in a season since 2007.

The sense that Matheny had a loose grip on the situation wasn’t helped by the fact that the Cardinals have been openly feuding with their own player, Dexter Fowler, who has been miserable in a Cardinals uniform from virtually the day he was acquired. Nor has it been helped by the revelation that he’s deployed a crotchety reliever as his bullpen cop and snitch, a report that eventually caused Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak to get involved. And then there was the report following last season that multiple Cardinals players were concerned about the erosion of professional standards in the clubhouse.

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Ultimately those are the kinds of distractions that get swept away if a team is winning. Fowler would be a lot happier if he weren’t mired in the worst hitting slump of his career. No one would be complaining about the behavior of players who “came up through other organizations” if the Cardinals were winning. Certainly a story of tension in the bullpen wouldn’t resonate so much if the Cardinals didn’t also have a lousy and disappointing bullpen, holding the sixth-worst combined ERA in baseball. Not coincidentally, it was another brutal bullpen performance that sank the Cardinals Saturday night: Jack Flaherty gave the team five strong innings without allowing a run, but Mike Mayers, Jordan Hicks, and Greg Holland gave up a combined seven runs over the next seven outs, on eight hits and a couple walks, and that was that.

Matheny becomes the first MLB manager to be fired mid-season while holding a winning record since Ned Yost in 2008, and departs despite holding a career 591-474 career record as Cardinals manager. The Cardinals also fired their hitting coach and assistant hitting coach, and have named bench coach Mike Shildt as Matheny’s interim replacement.