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telling the difference

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in case you haven't seen our game 2 verse (and you wouldn't want to miss that), it's right below this post. some thoughts at midday:

as much as we are all talking (myself included) about how the team looks reborn in games 1 and 2, how they're finally the "real" cardinals now that edmonds and eckstein are back, etc etc. --- in the end, only one thing has changed: the bullpen is finally doing its job.

am i merely stating the obvious? maybe so. but i haven't heard anyone say yet that 3 times during the 7-game losing streak, the cardinals got to the 7th inning looking just as sharp as they did in these last 2 games -- they had leads of 5-4, 5-2, and 5-2, but carpenter blew two of those leads, the bullpen the other one. in 3 further cases during the streak, the cardinals looked impressive in rallying from early deficits to tie the score. and in one game, they got 7 beautifully pitched shutout innings from suppan and were locked in a 0-0 tie after 7. had the bullpen come through once -- just once -- in that streak, it wouldn't have been a streak at all, nor as nail-bitey a final week.

if you compare the cards through their first 100 games (ie, through july 26) -- when they were a .580 team and 6 games up on the nl central -- vs the cards after that date, when they played at a .410 clip (25-36), one giant difference jumps out: the bullpen stopped pitching.

thru 7/26 after 7/26
record 58-42 25-36
runs scored / game 4.9 4.8
rotation ERA 4.80 4.76
bullpen ERA 3.87 4.39

so the cardinals in games 1 and 2 put on a rather typical performance through the 7th inning; they may seem like they're a dramatically different team, but that's mostly illusory. these have been two ordinary outings; the only thing extraordinary about them is how smoothly innings 8 and 9 went. maybe that is just random -- two lucky trials in a row. maybe it's because of the way the shadows fell across home plate. maybe it's because these rookies are naive enough to think they can actually succeed . . . . .

. . . . . . or maybe the rookies are actually good?