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what a relief it is

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here's a fairly remarkable factoid: of the cardinals' last 22 games, 17 have been decided by one or two runs. the cardinals have won 11 of the 17, thanks mainly to a corps i've been pretty hard on: the bullpen. i continue to think the arms can be improved upon, but you certainly can't ask for better results than these guys have delivered over the last three weeks. they deserve as much credit as anyone for the cards' continued success since the rolen injury:

pitcher inn hits r/er bb so era whip
tavarez 12.2 8 2/2 1 8 1.42 0.71
reyes 12.1 2 1/1 4 12 0.73 0.49
izzy 11 10 3/3 7 7 2.45 1.55
thomp'n 8.2 8 5/4 0 5 4.15 0.92
white 7.2 11 2/2 1 1 2.35 1.57
flores 7.1 5 1/0 1 3 0.00 0.82
king 3.1 6 2/2 2 2 5.40 2.401
TOTAL 63 50 16/14 16 38 2.00 1.05

meanwhile, the cardinal offense continues to score more runs than it should. david pinto originally noticed this tendency on may 24, and it remains in force: their basic numbers are way down since rolen's injury, yet their runs per game has barely dropped off. the current figures:
pre-injury since may 13
runs/game 5.2 5.0
average .270 .259
on base .342 .321
slugging .449 .396

to put this in perspective: since may 13 the cardinals have scored 109 runs, vs a predicted run total (via bill james' runs-created formula) of only 91 runs -- a "bonus" of 0.82 runs per game. insofar as the cardinals are playing so many tight games, this mysterious premium has enormous significance, yet i remain at a loss to explain it. a couple of weeks ago i suggested that a high rate of opposition errors was propping up the offense. but that trendline has weakened in the last week and a half, yet the offense remains inexplicably buoyant. i'll say again what i said last time: this just can't go on. sooner or later the cardinals' run total almost surely will sag back into synch with their lowered on-base and slugging avgs. or perhaps the on-base and slugging avgs will rise up to the level of the run-scoring. . . . .

i also recently tried to isolate the hitters most responsible for the dropoff in production and ended up picking on the little guys: taguchi, cedeno, and seabol. well, since then the trio has gone 9 for 23 (.391) with a half-dozen or so rbi . . . .so now i'm focusing on walker, who is in a rather precipitous freefall: 2 for his last 21, and just 10 for 61 overall since rolen's injury. i noted with alarm that he got just one hit in 11 at-bats last week at coors field, where he is a lifetime .383 hitter with a 1.176 ops . . . we have been discussing lately whether the cardinals should prioritize a bullpen arm or an outfield bat in the midseason trade bazaar; i'm not one to base such decisions on 22 games' worth of data, but the case for outfield depth is looking rather persuasive at this moment in time.

the case for billy wagner, meanwhile, is beginning to look academic: the phillies have won 6 straight and 15 of 21 to put themselves within a game of first place in the nl east. they are now three games over .500 and well within reach of an outright title or a wild-card berth. another likely closer-type trade target, the athletics' octavio dotel, is out for the season after undergoing elbow surgery. players like jose mesa and kent mercker may still be available for relatively cheap, but the dominating setup force i have been dreaming of suddenly looks unattainable -- at least for now.