a couple days ago, during the cardbloggers' playoff roundtable, danup made this observation:
"The playoffs in general scare me to death, the whole crapshoot aspect of it."
voros mccracken examined that very thing at baseball think factory the other day and found it well-grounded mathematically. he argues that, in a pure statistical sense, the padres have roughly a 26 percent chance of beating the cardinals in a 5-game series -- about the same chance that yadier molina might get a hit in a given at-bat. a very real possibility; not at all a longshot. again, that's based on pure theory, the only consideration being the two clubs' winning percentages; once you account for personnel, injuries, etc., you might slide those odds up or down slightly. (i put the padres' chances at 1 in 3 on the eve of the series.) but the conclusion rings true nonetheless. "Baseball's current playoff format," mccracken writes, "ensures that even the very best teams are likely underdogs to win the World Series once they make the playoffs." that's the crapshoot aspect danup's talking about.
the metaphor seems especially apt for today's st louis starter, mark mulder, a tumble of dice from the day they acquired him last december. was his awful 2d half in 2004 an aberration or an omen? would he get the cards over the postseason hump or drag them under? during the season, every start had a certain "roll-'em" drama about it; mulder yielded five runs or more in a quarter of his outings but one or fewer in a third of them. a lot of sevens, a lot of snake eyes; not much middle ground. at midseason the cards appeared to have lost the gamble, but mulder made a dramatic turnaround after the all-star break -- one that many observers (including me) are still struggling to comprehend. mulder continued to give up scads of baserunners; his walk rate actually increased by 1 per 9 innings in the 2d half, and his strikeout rate fell by a like amount. but he did two things incredibly well after the break: a) he more than halved his hr-allowed rate, from 1 per 8 innings to 1 per 18; and b) he raised his groundout/flyout ratio to a freakish 3:1. he kept giving up hits, but most of them were singles; mulder yielded an isolated power of just .104 in the 2d half.
he's a bend-don't-break pitcher; but that just plays back into the luck angle. mulder doesn't strike people out; the ball comes off the bat and from that point on luck, as much as anything else, determines where it may fall. we learned this from voros mccracken, too -- and it may help explain why mulder's been so hot and cold, on and off.
ten months after st louis traded for mulder, the dice are finally rolling to rest; we'll find out over the next (we hope) three weeks whether the cardinals cashed in or crapped out. he was acquired specifically for october, to help the cards match up against imposing short-series foes like schilling and pedro and clemens, and it remains to be proven that he can hold his own against their ilk on this stage. he did outlast the rocket back in april (albeit against an injury-thinned astro lineup) but fared somewhat less well in the rematch; a blown save denied him a win against andy pettite. stl's bats redeemed so-so efforts against ex-teammate tim hudson and pedro but couldn't bail mulder out against the big unit. but he outdueled ben sheets and john smoltz and pitched very well in two of three late-season matchups with greg maddux (august 11, september 7, and the division-clincher september 17.
from which we conclude . . . . . . nothing. just line `em up and roll `em.
16-8, 3.64 4-2, 3.17
|young lf||eckstein ss|
|loretta 2b||edmonds cf|
|hernandez c||pujols 1b|
|giles cf||walker rf|
|greene ss||sanders lf|
|randa 3b||grud'k 2b|
|nady 1b||nunez 3b|
|johnson rf||molina c|
|astacio p||mulder p|
Update [2005-10-6 14:45:0 by lboros]: the schedule's set for game 3: saturday at 11 pm eastern / 10 pm central / 8 pm pacific. no, i'm not kidding. see for yourself.