the beauty of low expectations

by far my favorite part of the weekend was watching brian barton leg out that triple on saturday. a veritable whiteyballer --- dude’s feet don’t even touch the ground when he runs. barton looks relaxed at the plate, seems to recognize pitches and make adjustments. he doubled on a 1-2 slider friday night, singled off a changeup later in that game, then took another 1-2 slider the opposite way for the triple on saturday. i like the skill set, the attitude, and the look; hope the kid sticks.

re rick ankiel --- it’s good to see him knocking the cover off the ball again (by golly, maybe he ain’t a fluke after all), but to me the real revelation so far has been his defense. am i the only one surprised to see him making highlight-reel plays? i don’t recall him making a single one of those last year. nor do i remember him getting such a consistently good jump on the ball --- check out his reaction on milledge’s line drive in the 9th yesterday. if he’s a quarter-beat slower (as a certain 37-year-old cf was last year), that ball’s over his head. my memory’s not so good anymore; maybe he played this kind of D last year and i simply don’t remember anymore. whatever the case, after only 6 games the outfield D already looks palpably better than last year’s. but --- oops --- chris duncan is just about set to return to the lineup . . . . .

kyle lohse curveball update: he threw it 12 times yesterday in 102 pitches, about twice as often as he threw it on opening day. 10 of the 12 came against left-handed hitters; for one game, anyway, the curve replaced the changeup as lohse’s off-speed pitch of choice against lefties. 9 of the 12 curves crossed the plate for strikes; the nats only swung at 3 of them and only put 2 into play (both by the only right-handed hitter to see a lohse curve, lastings milledge --- he popped up and flew out). of particular note, lohse threw the curve 5 times on the first pitch and 4 times with men in scoring position --- he wasn’t just throwing it in safe counts / safe situations.

another mildly interesting thing about lohse’s pitch selection: when the score differential was 1 run or less, lohse threw 26 fastballs in 44 pitches (59 percent). but after the cards went ahead 2-0 in the bottom of the 3d, lohse stripped down the repertoire and starting pumping more fastballs in there, 38 out of 55 pitches (69 percent). just what you’d expect a pitcher to do; boring and common-sensical. i bet dave duncan deserves a little credit for that; can’t prove it, just guessing.

i read somewhere that the cards’ last 5-1 start came in 2000. that got me curious about fast starts more broadly --- how often do the cards start out 5-1? and if we look forward, how often do they start 6-1, 7-1, and so forth? i only looked back at the last 40 years, ie to 1969 --- the beginning of divisional play, and more pertinent the year i began to pay attention to baseball. within that span, the 2008 cards are the 6th st louis team to start the season 5-1. no team has gone 6-0; last team to do that was El Birdos in 1967. here’s the complete list of 5-1 starters --- the "w-l" columns refer to final regular-season record; the "rs" and "ra" columns refer to runs scored and allowed during the 6 opening games:

w-l pl rs ra
2008 --- --- 25 13
2000 95-67 1st 52 27
1986 79-82 3d 29 12
1983 79-83 4th 31 14
1977 83-79 3d 39 23
1974 86-75 2d 35 24

four of the teams on this list extended the hot start to 6-1, and two (the 2000 and 1986 teams) opened 7-1; no cardinal team has opened the season 8-1 since i don’t know when. you’ll note that the 2008 cards rank last in runs scored on this list and second-to-last in run differential --- i draw no conclusions at all from those facts, just i thought i would call your attn to ‘m.

which cardinal teams of recent vintage have had the best record after 10 games? surprisingly enough, only one team of the last 4 decades has won more than 7 games in the first 10 --- the 1981 cards, who started 8-2. a dozen teams have opened with 7-3 marks, including forgettable outfits such as 1993, 1998, and 1999. i didn’t count all the 6-4 teams; there were quite a many.

it’s too early to draw any conclusions, but like all of you i couldn’t be more pleasantly surprised by this start. one of the beauties of low expectations is how easily they are surpassed. keep surprising us, fellahs.

final item --- here's a question and a poll re the not-quite-finished, not-quite-forgotten simulation tournament. i’ve gotten extremely backed up in my work and don’t have team to write even the most cursory game summaries for the tournament. nearly all of our summary-writing crew is in the same boat ---- overcommitted at work, traveling, what have you. for those of you who are still interested in the outcome, i offer two options. i can return to posting the results, one game per series per day --- but i’ll just post links to the box scores, unaccompanied by any summary. that’s the shortest path to the conclusion of the tournament. however, if you feel the summaries are essential to the experience, then the second option is ---- the results will be posted on a halting, as-time-permits timetable.

i’ll abide by the majority. i’d hoped to get this all wrapped up before opening day, but it just didn’t happen. best-laid plans, &c. sorry.

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