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the curse of the carloses

after four games, it's about as even as can be. both teams have won once by shutout, and once against the opposing bullpen. the mets have scored 20 runs; the cardinals, 19. mets as a team have posted a .793 OPS, cards .800. the mets have 7 hr, cardinals 6; mets have 16 walks, cards 17. both teams have swiped 2 bases.

insofar as st louis hasn't gotten a big game out of either pujols or carpenter yet, i'd say the cards are doing extremely well to be tied after four games. carpenter will get another crack at the mets, and pujols has 3 more games to put his signature on the series. he's fallen into two un-pujolslike habits vs new york: a) chasing pitches out of the strike zone, and b) trying to pull almost everything. last night he put three balls in play, all to the left side of the infield; of his 12 balls in play during the series so far, 8 have been pulled and only 4 hit to the opposite field:

  • 5 outs to the left side of the infield
  • 1 error to the left side of the infield
  • 2 hits to left field
  • 1 out to the right side of the infield
  • 1 out to right field
  • 2 hits to right field
note that he's 2 for 4 when he goes the other way; he also has a line-drive out to the opposite field and could very easily be 3 for 4 to that sector. albert only has 1 outfield flyout in this series; he has lined out on the infield 3 times. but that last clause tells you albert's putting decent wood on the ball; three line drive outs in 4 games? if even just one or those finds a hole, he's batting .350+ and maybe there are fewer knitted brows in cardfanland -- and fewer retarded comparisons to a-rod, who in his 4 nlds games reached base once, ie 7 times fewer than albert has done through 4 games of this series.

albert has 0 rbis, true, but there's an easy explanation for that: he has only had one at-bat with men in scoring position -- and he walked on four pitches in that appearance. pujols has batted 12 times with the bases empty, and the other 4 times with a man on first. in his 17 plate appearances, albert has made 9 outs and reached base 8 times (including once on an error) . . . . not a bad ratio for a hitter who's off his game. then consider that 2 of his outs were meaningless, occurring last night after the cardinals were trailing by 7, and that another 3 outs came on line drives hit directly at infielders. some tough luck, the dearth of rbi opportunities, and a prudent new york pitching strategy (they very wisely are not challenging him) have kept albert from making a big impression on the series so far. i'm not denying that he's off his game; he's playing into the mets' hands by taking undisciplined at-bats, and he's not driving the ball to the outfield. but we are only talking about 17 plate appearances. and it's not as if he has been a total nonfactor; he is still contributing (only one player, beltran, has scored more runs in the series so far). in the 1982 world series, the cardinals had another mvp-caliber 1st baseman -- keith hernandez -- who went 0 for 15 through 4 games. he was hitting the ball very hard, just couldn't find a hole; his luck finally turned in the last 3 games, and he went 7 for 12 and knocked in 8 runs.

pujols may still get his chance to do some damage.

anthony reyes' downfall last night was his inability to throw his changeup in the strike zone. he was spotting his fastball pretty well, moving it around the strike zone and getting ahead in the count with it; he was ahead 0-2 or 1-2 on half the batters he faced and fell behind 2-0 to only one met batter --- delgado, in both the 1st and 3d innings. but once he got ahead, anthony couldn't put the mets away with his out pitch; his changeup was consistently ankle-high or lower, making it easy to lay off. when he'd come back with his fastball on 2-2, it seemed as if we was trying to make perfect pitches instead of just throwing to spots; without the changeup to play off, his fastball's eminently hittable. somehow he got through with only 2 runs across, for which i think the kid deserves some credit; yes he battled himself, but he did not fall to pieces. he entered the game having thrown just 26 "live" pitches in the past three weeks, which might help explain his obvious rustiness.

i don't think tony erred in taking him out. the kid was at 86 pitches, so at best he was good for another 4 batters -- and 2 of the 4 batters due up for the mets (beltran and wright) had already homered off him. the relievers had been nearly flawless throughout the postseason; can't blame la russa for trusting them. but with hindsight, it's pretty clear he botched the selection of pitchers. la russa should have brought in a left-hander to start the top of the 5th, in which lo duca, beltran, and delgado were scheduled to bat. the switch-hitting beltran hits for far less power from the right side (ie, vs lefties), and the left-handed delgado has never hit lefties well during his career. but for the second time in the series, tony allowed a right-handed pitcher face both beltran and delgado in a tie ballgame -- he did the same in game 1, allowing weaver to face both beltran and delgado in the fateful 6th -- and for the second time he watched those players win the game. he could/should have had flores pitch to the carloses in the 5th last night, then gone with ty johnson when those two hitters came back up in the 7th or 8th; if they batted again in the 9th (pretty high likelihood), it would have been up to wainwright to get 'em. as it turned out, flores and johnson both pitched during innings when beltran and delgado batted -- but they came in too late, after the carloses had mashed long, damaging hits off st louis' rhps. neither flores nor johnson faced delgado, but they did both face oliver perez. . . . .

rather inexplicably, la russa has confronted beltran and delgado with right-handed pitchers in 32 of their 35 combined plate appearances: delgado has faced an lhp just twice in the series, beltran just once. given la russa's career-long obsession with matchup leverage, that's just about impossible to understand. here's how la russa explained last night's decision-making in the post-dispatch recap:

The manager opted for Thompson because the previous inning ended with a pinch-hitter for Reyes. Had the fourth inning not reached the No. 9 spot, La Russa said he would have opted for Flores for one inning rather than try to get two from Thompson. . . .

"Both of those righthanders [Thompson and Hancock] have been effective against lefthanders, and there's a lot of game left to pitch," La Russa said. "We were hoping to get a couple innings each from those guys to kind of piece the rest of it together."

ok, so he was looking for bulk innings; didn't want to play matchups that early in the game and burn out the bullpen in the process . . . . . that purpose got kind of defeated, i reckon. la russa is correct about thompson and hancock's splits, by the way -- they did both pitch very well vs left-handed batters this season. and i will allow that belliard's boot on lo duca's grounder leading off the 5th was neither la russa's not thompson's fault -- and it was huge. get that first out and a reliever breathes easier; if belly makes the play, perhaps the inning spools out differently and the bullpen management doesn't look so flawed. we'll never know.

we do know that feeding delgado low, outside fastballs isn't working; better cut that out. and we know that both he and beltran can handle the cardinals' right-handed relief pitchers. better throw 'em to the LOOGies from here on out.