first time

the cards are in first place by themselves for the first time since the final day of 2006. it’s only april 10 so it doesn’t mean much, but after going first-place-less for all of last season i thought this occasion worth noting. also worth noting is how easily the cardinals could be 9-0; their losses came by 1 and 2 runs, respectively, and both times the decisive run scored late in the game. of course, given how tight most of these games are (6 of the first 9 decided by 2 runs or less), with a little bad luck the team could very easily be 4-5 . . . . . again, it’s early. but not too early to enjoy seeing our crew at the top of the stack.

they still ain’t putting many runs on the board --- they’re currently 10th in the league in scoring, which is weird because they’re 1st in on-base percentage and 5th in slugging. dave smyth’s Base Runs formula says the cards ought to have scored 45 runs by now --- ie, 5 runs a game, a decent enough total. they’ve only scored 39 runs, or 6 under their projection --- 2/3 of a run per game. there are some easy explanations for the shortfall; they’ve hit only 6 homers so far this year, 12th in the nl (all but 3 cardinals are homerless), and they haven’t hit particularly well with men in scoring position (10th in the league in batting with RISP, 12th in slugging). again, it’s early and these are ridiculously small samples; way too soon to draw any firm conclusions. it’s possible --- possible --- that the cards’ run scoring will naturally rise to match the level of their component stats (ie, top 5 in the league). it’s also possible their component stats will drop to where their run total is (ie, below average). and the likelihood is that both will stabilize somewhere in between.

tony had a difficult tactical decision to make last night in the top of the 7th --- it didn’t generate any discussion on the game thread, so i thought i’d parse it out here. cards leading 5-3, 2 men on, 2 out, kyle mclellan at the dish, and a dwindling corps of relievers (all overworked) down in the pen with 9 outs still to go. do you pinch-hit or not? mclellan had just entered the game the previous half-inning and had thrown only 2 pitches; he was meant to pitch the 7th as well, but the cards put on so many baserunners in their half of the inning that mclellan’s spot unexpectedly came up. given how overworked the bullpen has been, tony must have been tempted to let mclellan bat, just to keep him in the game; kyle then would have stayed on to pitch the 7th against the bottom half of the houston order, and flores probably would have handled the 8th against bourn-pence-berkman. best-case scenario, franklin gets a much-needed night off. but la russa tried an opposite route to the same destination --- he sent up washington to hit for mclellan and tried to widen the lead to 3 or 4 runs right there; with a large enough margin, he could keep franklin (maybe izzy too) in his warmup jacket. it was a much riskier play, and it didn’t work; rico ended the inning, mclellan was gone, and tony ended up having to send franklin’s tired arm against the heart of the houston order for 4 outs. franklin breezed through the assignment, bless him, but the cards flirted with disaster there.

the bullpen’s workload issues are temporary --- thompson will be joining the pen soon (perhaps as soon as this weekend), wellemeyer shortly thereafter, and motte / perez are down at memphis if they’re needed. but in the short term, the overwork is a concern. izzy and franklin are tied for the league lead in appearances with 6 each (11 other guys are tied with them); i doubt either is available tonight. if they have to keep up this workload much longer, one of them is gonna get hurt. some people think franklin’s already hurt, on account of his heavy workload from last year.

my fearless predictions are up at the Daily Fix’s baseball contest. i didn’t distinguish myself last year in this contest, but i beat 3 or 4 of the other "experts" and thus avoided utter humiliation. i have the same modest goal for 2008 --- try not to embarrass myself too badly. i’ve got arizona and boston meeting in the world series . . . . . . i was the only guy to pick daric barton as my al rookie of the year.

and here’s an article that says ozzie smith had the worst season ever by a #2 hitter.

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