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all in all i'll take the split. marlins rode into town hot, threw their three best pitchers, and had the lead in all four games; in spite of which (and the many injuries) the cards played 'em to a bit better than a draw -- two convincing wins, two one-run losses. disjointed thoughts about the series finale:

johnny rod committed his nightly baserunning blunder -- picked off in the 3d with two outs and albert at bat, awaiting a 3-2 pitch. if i weren't so oversubscribed i'd go back and tally up the expected runs rodriguez's basepath gaffes have cost us . . . gotta be at least 3 or 4. and if the figure really is that large, it would negate two-thirds of the value his hot bat has added . . . .

the mad lithuanian was at the game and thought rolen would have gobbled up cabrera's two-out smash in the 5th inning. instead the ball gobbled up mabry -- and ML's not faulting mabes, he just thinks roley turns that difficult play with ease. anyway, the infield hit kept the inning alive long enough for fla to plate a fourth, ultimately decisive run.

valatan wondered in the game thread last night why tony let einar diaz bat for himself in the bottom of the 9th with nobody on, one out, and the cards down a run. i couldn't come up with an answer. diaz has a .222 on base pct this season, .302 for his career; he looks overmatched at the plate and has no power. scotty seabol was available on the bench. i think valatan's right --- tony shoulda pinch-hit.

comes now atlanta, which will provide an excellent pre-october test. the braves have three tough pitchers lined up: smoltz hudson and jorge sosa (?!). the latter is a mazzone reclamation -- entered the year with a career mark of 11-26 and an era over 5.00 but is 7-1 this season with a 2.57 era. he faces carpenter in the finale.

the braves increasingly look like a playoff lock; they're 4.5 ahead of fading washington, 6 up on philadelphia, 6.5 on the marlins; baseball prospectus puts their title chances at 75 percent. indeed, the whole nl playoff picture suddenly looks clear to bp: east = braves, central = cards (93 percent), west = padres (57 percent), wild card = houston (51 percent). the rest of the wild card race is so fragmented that no contender is currently given more than an 8 percent chance; the mets are at 8 percent, marlins and cubs at 7, phillies at 6. our own dear cardinals stand a 5 pct chance of winning the wild-card -- which figure equals the astros' chances of winning the division.

don't be shocked if the latter number grows in the next couple of weeks. after a weekend series in sf, houston opens a 13-game homestand (wash, pit, chi, mil); the astros have the league's best home record (36-15). the cardinals meanwhile begin a difficult 10-game stretch tonight: three at home with atlanta, three at milwaukee (the brewers are 30-20 at home), and our first three games of the season in wrigley. the lead now stands at 9 games, but things may tighten up just a tad in the next couple of weeks . . . .

but it's not as if the 'stros are completely carefree. josh notes at crawfish boxes that houston has a terrible team OBP this year -- the worst since the astrodome era.

finally, from elsewhere in texas, this bit of wishful thinking:

The Rangers have been working on a contract extension with outfielder Kevin Mench, but talks broke off last week.

The Rangers made a substantial offer on a three-year deal with a club option for a fourth year. That offer was rejected. Agent Ivan Schwartz made a counter offer that was unacceptable to the Rangers, who then pulled their offer.

i know, i know . . . . not bloody likely. source is the dallas star-telegram (registration required).