aside from the two hr allowed (one a cheapie), mark mulder turned in a typical performance last night. his line looks good, not great -- and i that seems an accurate reflection of his abilities at this time. he had hitters reaching all night, gave up only three or four hard-hit balls; induced an inordinate number of high-chop grounders, which suggests his pitches had late downward movement -- batters swinging just over them. he got 18 ground ball outs vs just 2 flyball outs. all of those trends augur great success, and they are why he only yielded four hits in seven innings. but mulder's main weakness was on display last night too: he cannot make batters swing and miss on pitches in the strike zone. he threw 58 strikes last night, and only two were swung through -- both when batters chased balls out of the zone. i realize he's not trying to strike hitters out, but you can't get all your strikes on a) the corners, and b) balls off the plate that batters chase. because some nights you won't get the calls on the corners -- hell, some nights you won't hit the corners -- and some lineups won't chase the stuff that's two inches outside. you have to have something you can challenge guys with, and mulder doesn't look like he has it. he did seem to change speeds well last night, but not well enough to get batters behind on his fastball.
all of which leads me to think that mulder's seeming up-downness this year isn't going to change. he walks a fine line, the way tommy glavine does; when everything clicks he is extremely effective, but if one thing doesn't click he can be scored on. his era is 4.27; i wouldn't expect his final number to be far from that. his FIP, or fielding independent era, is 4.04, and he's yielding a BABIP (batting avg on balls in play) of .313, neither of which suggests that his basic ERA is off-base . . . . i suspect he will pitch well against the cubs, who lack the discipline to exploit mulder's weaknesses. they'll take their hacks, and likely wind up with a lot of groundball outs.
stray thought: abe nunez made some damn nice plays at third base last night (he was busy -- more evidence the hitters were reaching). when rolen returns, i wonder if la russa would consider playing nunez at short when mulder pitches? with him in there, the cards' infield defense would be tighter than it was last year -- nunez is better than edgar, and grud'k is better than womack. it would be a direct slap at eck'ns fielding, but when a guy's trying to get groundballs -- and succeeding as mulder is -- i think you need to put the best d out there that you can.