The White Sox hired Robin Ventura on Oct. 6, much to the surprise of pundits, fans, players -- pretty much everyone around baseball except the White Sox brass. Ventura had never managed a game at any professional level before, and even he wasn't sold on the opportunity when it was offered. There was plenty of head-scratching on that fall day -- this is the guy who's going to replace Ozzie Guillen?
It's June 12 and the White Sox are in first place, albeit by just a half-game heading into Tuesday's action. But first place is first place, and it's somewhere few expected the White Sox to be at any point this year.
The Cardinals hired Mike Matheny, who similarly had never managed at any professional level, on Nov. 14. While Ventura's hire was met with questions and confusion, Matheny's hire was met with a lesser level of head-scratching and more praise.
"So I told Mike when the White Sox hired me everyone was like, 'Oh my gosh, you've got to be kidding me,'" Ventura told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of a text exchange with Matheny. "I took all the arrows for him. When Mike got hired it was like, 'Oh, that's a smart move. Ex-catcher. He's been in the organization.' Sheesh."
St. Louis got off to a roaring start, winning 20 of their first 31 games. But since hitting that high water mark of nine games over .500 on May 9, the Cardinals are 11-19 with their only series wins coming against San Diego and Houston.
Losing Lance Berkman has been a major blow, although the Cardinals' lineup only has one regular (Tyler GreenDaniel Descalso) with a below-average OPS. It's been St. Louis' pitching that has failed them -- the Cardinals' offense has scored five or more runs in eight of their last 19 losses.
The good news for Matheny and the Cardinals is that the NL Central is weak this year, as evidenced by Pittsburgh waking up on Tuesday in first place. Baseball Prospectus still gives the Cardinals a 63 percent chance of reaching the postseason.
The White Sox have a 59 percent chance of making the playoffs by the same measure. If both make it, it'd represent a pretty incredible success story for two true first-time managers.