the cardinals have arrived in denver for their annual stop; i’ll be down at coors field tonight (game-time forecast: partly cloudy, 70 degrees) and again on thursday afternoon, with real life keeping me from the park on tues and wed. at the time the cards came to denver last year, ankiel ryan and parisi were all in triple A, and barton and mclellan were still in A ball. todd wellemeyer had never started a big-league game (he made his first career start out here last year), while joel pineiro was a failed reliever in boston and adam wainwright was no one’s idea of an ace --- he’d made 10 career starts with a 5.59 era. they were 7 games under and 6.5 games out of first last time they visited denver, as unhappy a bunch as you might imagine; this year they float in lighter than the rocky mountain air.
i don’t have much wisdom to offer re the series win over the cubs; aside from one bad inning on saturday they frustrated the league’s highest-scoring offense, and the st louis hitters kept pecking away and got a couple of key hits (one by schumaker, one by pujols). while far from a thumping, it was a nice series win for a team that’s still trying to set the tone for its season. they now enter a stretch that will really tell us just how seriously we should take this team --- 14 road games in the next 21 days, all against teams that finished above .500 last year. two of the opponents (padres and rockies) are well below .500 so far this season, but they’re still not going to be pushovers for the cards. if the team can preserve its current loft (8 games over) through these next 3 weeks, we may be in for a really fun summer.
in the game thread last night somebody remarked that albert’s go-ahead double wasn’t all that impressive, just a groundball with eyes; the same might be said of kennedy’s hit that tied the game back in the 2d inning. that, it turns out, is something we need to keep an eye on. per Baseball-Reference’s splits, the cardinal offense leads the league in seeing-eye rollers: they’re batting .276 on groundballs, nearly 50 points higher than the league average (.228). a 20-point bulge might be sustainable over a full season, but 50 points? not gonna happen. just ask yourself --- is adam kennedy really going to hit .329 all year? he’s hitting .250 on groundballs so far this year, vs a career average on grounders of .192. and kennedy hits a lot of groundballs . . . . . this is a red flag for an offense that so far hasn’t exhibited a whole lot of weapons other than the groundball through the hole; the cards rank 12th in the nl in both homers and stolen bases. they’re due a few additional homers from glaus and duncan, and those might help make up the difference when the groundballs stop hopping through as frequently. but even with the benefit of all those groundball hits, the cardinals rank just 9th in the league in scoring; there’s a danger they’ll sink several spots below that.
corollary: the cardinal defense is gobbling up grounders at a stupendous rate, holding opponents to a .184 average, or 44 points better than league average. this is unsustainable as well, but it’s less of a problem; the cardinals can afford to give up a few more singles as long as they continue to avoid walks and homeruns. unlike the middle-of-pack offense, the pitching currently ranks near the top of the league; it can lose a little altitude and still remain superior.
fact of the day: did you know the cards have only allowed 2 first-inning runs all year? maybe dan and al have trotted that out on the broadcast, but i sure didn’t know it. every other team in the nl has allowed at least 10 first-inning runs to date. more runs are scored in the first inning than any other, for the obvious reason that teams always send good hitters to the plate in the first. this helps explain why the cardinal starting pitchers rank a close second in the league in innings per start ---- they deliver just over 6 innings a start, second in the league (a hair behind the padres). they last two outs longer per start than the members of atlanta’s rotation (who have the league’s best era) and one out longer than the cub and brewer starters. although some of us fretted about the heavy use of the bullpen early on, that has been brought under control: the cardinal bullpen has thrown the fewest innings in the league and made the third fewest appearances (the dodgers and padres have fewer).
a couple of items:
- congrats to will leitch for steering the 1986 cardinals to the division title in TSN’s season-long replay. they won it by a game on the last day of the season, as terry pendleton (batting .199) singled home the go-ahead run in the top of the 9th. the cards take on the houston astros (winners of both the real and simulated 1986 titles) in the nlcs; game 1 is wednesday.
- a friend of mine, shelley bernstein, is running a wisdom-of-crowds-type experiment at the Brooklyn Museum, and we are all invited to participate. shelley and i sat on a blogging panel together at a national conference last week, and she told me about this exercise, which is called Click! it’s essentially a juried photography exhibition in which the public acts as the jury; "click" refers both to the shutter of the camera and the mouse activity of gazillions of online users. you don’t have to be a photography expert to participate, and you don’t have to live in brooklyn; in fact, shelley asked me to post this invitation at VEB because our community is predominantly not made up of photography fans / brooklyn residents. the broader the inputs, the better the results --- or so the "wisdom of crowds" theory goes. here’s more info about the exhibition, and here’s a link to the registration page; no photographs of the dodgers were submitted, but there are still some very thought-provoking images.