good stuff from scott rolen in bernie's column today. he nakedly admits that the cards' morale stunk after the 1-5 trip to pittsburgh and washington, and that the people who wrote the team off at that point had every reason to do so. and then he adds:
Don't try to figure this game out.
and where the cubs are concerned? they gave up trying to figure the game out decades ago. their 2007 campaign has been at least as illogical as the cardinals' --- indeed, at a superficial level the two teams' seasons have a lot in common. chicago reached the same low point as st louis --- 9 games under --- and were left for dead by many of their fans. then they made a few lineup changes --- dumped some unproductive veterans (mike barrett and jacque jones), called up the centerfield phenom from triple A (felix pie), and started giving lots of at-bats to no-great-shakes prospects like mike fontenot and ryan theriot and angel pagan. above all, they shoved aside the washed-up veteran relievers who were costing them games --- guys like eyre and ohman --- and assigned their roles to youngsters like carlos marmol. they went with the kids, is the point i'm trying to make --- and, like the cardinals, they started getting better results.
the major difference here --- and it pretty much wrecks the whole analogy --- is that the cubs were never as bad as their record suggested. even when they were 9 games under they had scored more runs than they'd allowed; they simply had lost a lot of close games due to inept bullpenning. all the stat geeks predicted the cubs would bounce back from the slow start and get themselves into the race (something nobody predicted for the cardinals), and they were right. chicago's offense, while never great, has been solidly average all year, and its rotation has been healthy and consistent. after the zambrano-barrett dugout bout on june 1 and piniella's subsequent tantrum, the cubs played outstanding baseball for two months --- a 35-18 record (.660) between june 3 and august 1. the last win of that stretch pulled the cubs into a tie for first place --- whereupon they proceeded to go 4-10 and get outscored 69-87, bringing us right up to the present. their pitching staff, among the top 3 in the league all season, has hit its raggedest patch in the last two weeks, posting a 6.09 era. while the cardinal rotation has been reeling off all those quality starts --- 9 in a row and counting --- the cubs have received just 4 q.s. all month (two from lilly, one from hill, one from marquis). in two starts since leaving his august 3 start vs the mets with heat cramps, zambrano has been pummeled for 21 hits and 13 runs in 12+ innings. sean marshall, the cubs' scheduled starting pitcher tomorrow, has a 10.38 era in 3 august starts.
like rolen says, don't try to figure this game out.
the cubs will throw three left-handed pitchers at st louis this weekend, including two (hill and marshall) the cardinals have not faced this year. here's how the cardinal outfielders perform vs left-handers:
in the big leagues, ankiel has 2 hits and 3 strikeouts in 7 at-bats vs left-handers. in the minors, his line vs them this year was .278 / .313 / .602.
encarnacion says he is good to go; he's ready to play. how does it make sense to keep him on the bench? which three outfielders ought to be starting ahead of him? there's no case at all for edmonds, who simply can't hit lefties anymore --- his cumulative line vs them over the last two seasons is .171 / .231 / .276. nor can you make a good case for duncan, who a) has never established that he can hit left-handers consistently, and b) is having a tough 2d half (.232 / .333 / .439 since the all-star break). if encarnacion sits again, that leaves an outfield of ludwick / taguchi / ankiel . . . . i realize that encarnacion is no hall-of-famer, but he's good enough to crack that outfield. he's one of the best three. la russa has made his point --- if encarnacion does get in there, he's going to play hard. he knows his job is on the line.
be interesting to see how tony plays it.