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halfway station: looking back

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if you missed it, the cards won 6-3 last night after a long rain delay -- indeed, spent longer delayin' (2:52) than playin' (2:43). edmonds launched a couple of doubles, giving him 4 extra-base hits in his last 12 at-bats -- after having swatted only 8 in his previous 141 at-bats. jim's OPS stands at an even .800, the first time it has reached that threshold since april 3 -- the 1st game of the season. maybe there's life in that old boy's bat yet.

i hark back to that 1st game for another reason: with half the season in the books, i thought i'd revisit my Opening Day musings and see if 81 games' worth of baseball have changed the outlook. the game-thread post from that day contained an assortment (not quite random) of observations about the journey ahead. stuff like this:

as they're presently constructed, the cardinals have an all-too familiar look about them -- likely to win the nl central, then get bounced in the playoffs. so a big part of the drama in these 162 walk-throughs will be how well jock (and to a lesser extent tony/dave) can improve the cast -- and how much maneuvering room the owners will allow -- before the curtain lifts on october.
so far, the team has made only one important personnel change -- adding reyes to the rotation -- since opening day. we're told that chris duncan may be the semi-regular left-fielder for a while, which might constitute another noteworthy change (maybe for better, maybe for worse) or might simply add another faulty voice to the out-of-tune chorus at that position. fans continue to hope (and jocketty continues to shop) for one or more high-impact acquisitions to bolster the rotation and/or the hole in left field . . . . which leaves us right where we started. as things stand now, i wouldn't change a word of that particular opening-day thought.

later in the same post, i listed three statistics i would be watching in 2006. how do those look?

  1. jason marquis' walk rate. "i'm gonna set the cutoff point at about 2.5 walks per 9: if he's walking guys more often than that, i'll expect the same old inconsistency." jason walked 3.3 guys per 9 innings in the 1st half, his highest walk rate as a cardinal.
  2. mark mulder's strikeout rate."if he can sustain a rate of 5.5. k/9 or above this season, then mulder might finally be the ace the cards hoped he would be when they acquired him." his k/9 is 4.87, the same number he posted in 2006, but that's not relevant at this point; mulder's health trumps any other indicator we might use to assess his performance.
  3. the cardinals' double-play rate. "the cardinal pitching staff's extreme groundball emphasis hasn't changed, but the keystone combination has -- and the instability at 2b could prove costly. as long as the dp rate is at least 1.0 per game, i'll feel pretty good about it." the cards turned 78 dps in the first half, on pace for 156 -- a 40 dp dropoff from 2005, but still a good total. no worries.
so the defense has held its own, but neither of the two starting pitchers on this eclectic list has stepped forward to stouten the front of the st louis rotation. only the first of these three items still seems even remotely relevant now that we've got to midseason; looking forward i'll be far more concerned about stats like albert pujols' games played -- behave, right oblique -- jim edmonds' slugging percentage, mark mulder's innings pitched, and possibly adam wainwright's games started . . . . on a team basis, i'll continue to keep an eye on that hr differential, which stands at minus 20 as of this morning.

here's how the schedule looked from opening-day:

  • "it's tailor-made for a fast start." check.
  • "their toughest stretch begins on june 20, when they face the defending champs for 3 at comiskey, then play detroit on the road and come home to take on the indians. after a 3-game breather vs the royals, they head back out on the road to close the first half in atlanta at houston." yup, that was a tough stretch. . . . . . didn't even get the breather vs the royals.
i concluded the opening-day post with the prediction that st louis would win 93 games. seemed like a pretty conservative guess at the time, but from the midway station that number now appears somewhat optimistic. to reach that win total, the cardinals will have to play .600 ball (49-32) in the 2d half. if they do, nobody's going to head them; they'll win the division. but i wouldn't bet a dime that this team, with this rotation, can go 49-32 moving forward; i think 45 wins in the 2d half is a far more realistic over/under (barring a major trade). a 45-36 second half would leave the cardinals at 89-73 -- the same record as last year's wild-card winner and nl champion. will that be enough to get them into this october's tournament? the brewers are getting well fast -- doug davis has solved his control problems, okha is almost back, and ben sheets is almost rehab ready. houston's in position to strike, as always, and the reds haven't gone away -- and are well positioned to make a splashy acquisition.

only one of those three teams has to get hot to put the cards in deep trouble.

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in a post right before spring training began, i played around with the cards' PECOTA projections and surmised that the cardinals might score in the neighborhood of 793 runs in 2006, while allowing 712; at those totals, we would expect a 90-72 won-loss record. tho many of the assumptions underpinning that bit of guesswork have proven completely inaccurate, the overall conclusion doesn't look so terrible; the cardinals' 1st-half totals project out to 812 runs scored, 782 allowed, an expected record of 84-78 . . . . . and i was worried about a total of 712?

at this point, 90-72 looks like a very realistic and worthy target for st louis.

speaking of projections, some of you recall (and/or took part in) a series of community forecasts in january and february -- a sort of "wisdom of the crowd" exercise to predict the 2006 statistics of certain stl players. i guess some crowds are wiser than others . . . . we did pretty well soothsaying en'cion, not so well with the rest of these guys. but we were no less accurate than the "expert" forecasters like ron shandler and bill james. take a look, the forecasts are kind of amusing:

edmonds
rolen
encarnacion
mulder
molina
spivey

finally, it might be amusing to read this preseason conversation among four know-it-alls about the nat'l league central. i had the reds finishing dead last with a 67-95 record . . . . .

tomorrow, a look forward from midseason.