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well, can't write that one off to the high-quality competition. or to the sign-stealing bastard behind the centerfield camera . . . . .

here's a sobering consideration to bring you down off that emotional high you're on because of the cards' current run: check out st louis' home run differential. always a good shorthand for separating contenders from pretenders. the cardinals now rank next-to-last in the national league, at minus 21; the only team worse is the cubs. if they keep this pace up, the cards will finish the year at minus 45 in hr differential. i looked back as far as 2000; no team has made the playoffs with an hr differential as bad as minus 45. in fact, only one has made the playoffs with a differential as bad as the cards' current minus 21 -- the 2003 minnesota twins, who yielded 32 more dingers than they hit.

in all, just 8 of the 48 playoff teams since 2000 have had a negative hr differential. 5 of those teams lost in the 1st round of the playoffs (4 were swept), and 2 got knocked out in the lcs. only 1 reached the world series: the 2002 anaheim angels, who won the whole thing.

one of the teams chasing the cardinals this year, milwaukee -- which closed to within 5 games yesterday -- is at plus 25 in hr differential this season. the team directly behind st louis, cincinnati, is at plus 5.

the last 7 days have definitely skewed the number; the cards were only at minus 9 before the losing streak began, and they were dead even before pujols' injury. but i don't think this is one of those things that's going to self-correct. i have no prescriptions to offer; i suppose it could help to bump marquis from the rotation, seeing as he's tied for the major-league lead in home runs allowed and has given the cardinals more starts of 5 or more runs allowed (8) than quality starts (7). his era's by month are 5.04 (april), 4.54 (may), and 8.40 (june). . . . . but we can't bump all the starters, can we? i mean, what --- have wainwright swap roles with marquis? cash in ponson -- if he fails to make good on the grace period he's been granted -- for dennis tankersley? aw, for the luvva tudor . . . . .

the sad thing is, a rotation of carp reyes supps wainwright and tank could only improve upon the status quo. might not be better; couldn't be worse. the starters have stunk for nearly two months. from may 1 through june 18 --- up to the start of the losing streak began -- the starting pitchers posted a 4.85 era. that covers a span of seven weeks. now roll in the 7-game losing streak -- an aberration, yes, but those games do count -- and the rotation's era since may 1 is 5.65. that's over 50 games -- a third of the schedule.

bright side: the rotation is improving. it now features two good starters, twice as many as before. and one of them is pitching tonight. so just forget all the foregoing, and hope that reyes slings it a little better this eve than he did last time. . . . . .