good to have this part of our lives back, no? baseballs in motion constantly -- pitched, hit, taken, hidden, tipped, broken off, misjudged, outrun, scuffed, thrown out of play, lost in the lights, snared, stroked, pegged, dug out of the dirt, driven high and deep, fired, flipped, dribbled, one-handed, and flared . . . . a swarm of charged particles; a big fusion reaction, just like the sun. and like the sun, baseball's gonna rise ev'y day from now till the first of november, whatever wins and losses the season may bring to our team and to each of us as individuals.
the "perfect world" box is back in place on the left-hand sidebar; it'll flex during the year as trends and lines of discussion come and go. also have a new poll up on the right-hand sidebar; i'll repeat this this one from time to time and chart the ebb and flow of our confidence in the team.
one other sidebar note: my apologies for the "Houston Astros Championship Season" ad. it's an SB Nation network ad; i wouldn't take these guys' unholy money if it were up to me. whatever you do, don't click on the damn thing or they'll re-up for another week or month or whatever.
in case you missed the news on junior spivey, scroll down one post -- he's been DFA'd, with plan A to send him to memphis.
i was so busy last week i never got time to organize my thoughts about the 2006 cards into any sort of coherent package to kick off the season. maybe the exercise would have been pointless anyway; almost anything i might say at this point is gonna be repetition or overkill. ye faithful readers already know how i feel, so rather than rehash it i'm just gonna chuck a few final considerations out there, beginning with this one:
It's Still the Preseason. the cardinal franchise has arrived at the same point the yankees and braves reached some years back: only october matters. the regular season is nothing to take seriously; it's a lark, a good time, a six-month series of exhibitions. that's not to say the cardinals are invincible; far from it, they could miss the playoffs under any number of scenarios. but simply making the playoffs is no longer enough; not even close. anything less than another world series appearance will be judged a disappointment. the 162 dress rehearsals will have their memorable plots and their indelible moments, but the handful of games that (we hope) will define this year are still a long, long way off.
as they're presently constructed, the cardinals have an all-too familiar look about them -- likely to win the nl central, then get bounced in the playoffs. so a big part of the drama in these 162 walk-throughs will be how well jock (and to a lesser extent tony/dave) can improve the cast -- and how much maneuvering room the owners will allow -- before the curtain lifts on october.
Three Stats I'll Be Watching.
jason marquis' walk rate. through 26 starts last year, marquis issued 3.7 walks per 9 innings and had a 4.67 era; in his last 6 starts he issued 0.8 walks per 9 and cut his era in half, to 2.30. walks were never his main problem, but they were a telling symptom of it -- ie jason's tendency to make things too complicated on the mound. when he finally accepted duncan's advice and simplified matters -- fastball/sinker, pitch to contact -- the at-bats resolved in shorter order, and the walks naturally disappeared. this spring he walked 2.3 per 9 innings and had an era of about 2.00. i'm gonna set the cutoff point at about 2.5 walks per 9: if he's walking guys more often than that, i'll expect the same old inconsistency. if he's below that figure, he may take a big step forward.
mark mulder's strikeout rate. most of y'are sick of hearing about this, but i still think it matters. he whiffed 4.8 batters per 9 in 2005; if he's below 5.0 again in 2006 i have a feeling his era's gonna end up north of 4.00. but they say his mechanics have been sharp this spring, enabling him to miss more bats -- 15 ks in 21.2 spring-training frames, an avg of 6.2 strikeouts per 9. if he can sustain a rate of 5.5. k/9 or above this season, then mulder might finally be the ace the cards hoped he would be when they acquired him.
- the cardinals' double-play rate. the cardinals' 196 double plays last year were the 19th-best total in mlb history, and the marginal value of all those twin killings was, conservatively, three wins. what are the odds that the 2006 cards can even come close to last year's total, which set a new franchise record? surprisingly good. the 18 other teams who recorded at least 196 double plays in a single season averaged 174 double plays in the following year, with a median total of 181; only 5 teams failed to turn at least 1 dp per game in the ensuing season. the cardinal pitching staff's extreme groundball emphasis hasn't changed, but the keystone combination has -- and the instability at 2b could prove costly. as long as the dp rate is at least 1.0 per game, i'll feel pretty good about it..
The Schedule: as acr noted here, it's tailor-made for a fast start; the cards will not face good pitching early on. their first 35 games include 5 against the reds, who may have the worst staff in the national league; 6 against the cubs, who will be without prior and wood; and 3 each against florida and colorado. they also have 6 against the pirates, who are tough at the top of the rotation (perez and duke) but soft in spots 3-5; depending on how the pitching pairings break, those may be easy games too.
their toughest stretch begins on june 20, when they face the defending champs for 3 at comiskey, then play detroit on the road and come home to take on the indians. after a 3-game breather vs the royals, they head back out on the road to close the first half in atlanta at houston. and it gets no easier after the all-star break -- their 1st 10 games are against the dodgers (7) and braves (3).
of the cards' 27 games after labor day, nearly half (13) will be against teams outside the division; the only divisional rivals they will face down the stretch are milwaukee and houston.
I Guesstimate the Cardinals Will Win 93 Games in 2006 Because . . . .
History says so. the 2004-05 Cardinals are the 13th team of the divisional era (ie, post-1969) to log back-to-back 100-win seasons. the previous 12 teams won an average of 94 games in the 3d year -- ie, the year after the 2d 100-win season -- and saw their victory total decline by an average of 8 wins.
Diamond Mind says so. in three separate multi-trial simulations based on this computer game, the cardinals ended up with between 93 and 96 wins. the diamond-mind projections have a pretty good track record.
Las Vegas says so. the over-under on the cardinals is 93 games.
- I said so last spring. although my 93-win prediction was way too low in 2005, the possibility exists that i actually had the right win total, just the wrong year. so i'm going with the same number again.