start spreading the news . . . . . .

before we get into this: it has been asked if VEB can be downloaded to a cellphone. the best answer i can give after various inquiries is that you can do it with a browser called Opera Mini, which is downloadable from this site. reader I Touched Mcgee was posting from busch III sunday night at the clincher via his cell; McGee, if you have any other advice about downloading to / posting from a cell, please clue the folks in.

alright, then: the mets.

in my nlds preview last week, i consulted voros mccracken's playoff crap-shoot matrix and a similar odds-making formula by baseball prospectus' james click; they estimated the cards' chances of winning the series at 40 to 45 percent, not terrible odds. but the two instruments are less sanguine about the possibility of a st louis upset over the mets --- likelihood's only about 1 in 3, per these formulae.

that forecast checks out with the empirical evidence. the cardinals won 14 fewer games than the mets this season, making this the 9th most lopsided matchup in lcs history (3d most lopsided if we consider the nlcs only). in the 8 matchups more lopsided than this one, the underdog won 2 times -- a 25 percent success rate. if we expand our sample size to include all lcs matchups with a spread of 10 wins or more, here's what we get:

win
differential
underdog
record
20+ games 1-3
15-19 games 1-3
10-14 games 3-8
total 5-14

common trait among the upset winners? four of the five had (duh) at least 2 dominant starters at the top of the rotation. (if you're keeping score at home, those four teams are the 2005 astros, 1987 twins, 1973 mets, and 2001 yankees.) if you ask me, a 1 in 4 shot at a world series berth is pretty good for an 83-win ballclub; those odds are about the same as the odds that juan encarnacion might get a basehit in a given at-bat. it's far from hopeless.

for the first time in recent memory, the cardinals have a real opportunity to win a series with their bats; no schmidts, schillings, or oswalts anywhere in sight. a couple of blitzkreig attacks against new york's feeble starters might set the kind of tone that can foster an upset. but the cards better score early, because the met bullpen is every bit the equal of the padres'; if the games are tight, new york will hold the edge. it went unnoticed, but st louis didn't score off the san diego pen until the final game, and both the runs were unearned. the cardinals' young relievers matched san diego's zero for zero, but i wouldn't bet on kinney johnson and wainwright pitching like aces forever. the mets have a tougher lineup, and the nlcs is a bigger stage; i hope the kids can keep posting 0s on the scoreboard, but i am not counting on it.

jeff suppan has a chance to make a name for himself in this series; a good start or two on this stage with the national media paying rapt attention, and he's like to drive up his asking price by $2m a year on the free-agent market. he's slated to pitch games 2 and 6 opposite new york rookie john maine, and those loom as pivotal matchups. on paper (for what little that's worth in a short series), the mets hold the advantage in games 1 and 5 (glavine vs weaver), and the cards hold it in 3 and 7 (carpenter vs trachsel); game 4 (perez vs marquis/reyes) is a tossup. maine and suppan appear to be pretty evenly matched; let's take a closer look:

w-l era avg obp slg hr/9 k/w
suppan 12-7 4.12 .277 .344 .440 1.0 1.5
maine 6-5 3.60 .212 .287 .399 1.5 2.2

supps does a better job of keeping the ball in the park, but the rookie appears to hold the advantage in ev'y other respect; we better start parsing things up if we want this to look better for our side. suppan pitched lights-out after the all-star break; surely that split's more encouraging:

w-l era avg obp slg hr/9 k/w
suppan 6-2 2.39 .253 .318 .370 0.7 1.8
maine 6-2 3.28 .203 .283 .368 1.3 2.0

that does indeed even things out a bit, although maine didn't pitch too shabby in the 2d half himself. but here's another bit of pertinent news: maine appears to have been more reliant upon luck than ol' supps. the stats below courtesy fangraphs:

BABIP LOB % FIP
suppan .301 72 4.76
maine .228 77 4.96

maine's .228 average on balls in play is unsustainably low; he can't expect to keep that up indefinitely. ditto his strand rate of 77 percent. their FIPs show them to be pretty evenly matched pitchers; if we could parse that figure by pre/post all-star (and i don't know where that data is available), suppan would doubtless hold an advantage. they both pitched poorly in the nlds -- maine held LA to 1 run, but only because of the dodgers' inept baserunning and 3d-base coaching; he is flyball/strikeout pitcher (0.85 go/ao ratio), so the cardinals need to exploit the kid's weakness and loft a couple over the fence.

i read something encouraging in the post-dispatch this morning:

Facing an allegedly superior opponent, La Russa is liberated to "push." He no longer feels constrained by "the book," he says, "because the book says you're going to lose."
attaboy tony; stay loose. i truly hope, in that spirit, he'll roll the dice on anthony reyes in game 4 of the series. the kid has already demonstrated an ability to pitch well under pressure; in his two penultimate starts down the stretch, he pitched toe-to-toe against chris capuano and the padres' chris young. reyes did get clobbered on the season's final day, but come on; the start came on short rest, and the rookie had no idea he'd be starting that crucial game until a couple of hours before the first pitch. he surely was no worse in that final start than jason marquis in his final game of 2006, where he got six outs and gave up six runs. jason posted era's in august and september of 6.75 and 7.25, respectively -- and we can't write those figures off to "take one for the team" outings, in which his stats got inflated by one or two gratuitous beatings. in two of jason's last 3 starts, he failed to get out of the 3d inning.

look at it this way: a starting pitcher who is guaranteed to draw boos from the hometown crowd -- a st louis crowd, no less -- when the PA guy announces his name during the pregame introductions? that's just not a pitcher you want to use in the playoffs. don't do it, tony . . . . . please?

maybe la russa's so fed up with his critics this year that he's considering giving marquis a start just to punish us all.

if i'm the mets, i don't want to face games 6/7 with maine/trachsel as my two starters; i'm hoping to close things out in a hurry. if the cards can just hang in there and win 2 of the first 5 games, i'd take my chances with supps and carp in the last two and feel as if st louis could still swipe the series. should the cardinals manage to win either of the glavine starts (games 1 and 5), i like their chances a lot; if they don't, it's still not a lost cause.

here's hoping for a long series.

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