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izzy's getting sliced up this morning --- may it all go smoothly and successfully.

in any other year, the thought of heading into october without isringhausen would cause apoplectic fits throughout cardinal nation. but in 2006 -- given izzy's shaky performance and the myriad other problems facing the team -- reactions have ranged from "who cares" to "thank god." shouldn't we all be gnashing our teeth and rending our clothes? seeking guidance, i took a quick and unscientific look back at recent playof teams who changed closers late in the season -- whether electively or due to injury, like the cardinals.

didn't have to look far to find examples. three of last year's eight participants headed into october with johnny-come-lately closers: the white sox, red sox, and braves. of the three, the white sox offer by far the closest parallel. like this year's cardinals, they made their change very late in the season -- the 3d week in september. also like the cards, they turned to a rookie who had never saved a game at any level -- indeed, had never made a relief appearance of any kind -- prior to that season. the sox's new closer, bobby jenks, saved 5 of 6 after moving into the role full-time and went 3 of 4 in the postseason; he did blow a 2-run lead in the 9th-inning of game 2 of the world series, but got off the hook when scott podsednik took brad lidge deep. bottom line -- he served the purpose.

atlanta last year turned to kyle farnsworth in the final week of august, their 3d closer of the season (after kolb and reitsma); at that point in time he had 10 career saves, plus 10 more at the minor-league level, and he converted 10 of 10 down the stretch for the braves. but in his 1st and only postseason save opportunity, in game 4 of last year's nlds at houston, he blew a 6-1 lead and precipitated the end of the braves' season. the boxos' pattern matched the braves'; they also made a change in late august and turned to a third closer, mike timlin (following foulke and schilling). timlin already had 117 big-league saves at the time, having spent 2 full seasons and parts of 3 others in the closer role. he saved 11 games down the stretch for boston but never got an opportunity during the sox's brief defense of their world title.

another playoff team that prominently switched closers late in the year was florida in 2003; they dumped braden looper in favor of ugie urbina in mid-september. urbina, of course, had 200 major-league saves at the time, so it's not such a close parallel. the only other close analog i could come up with was the 1982 milwaukee brewers, who lost rollie fingers in late august to an injury and used a makeshift bullpen the rest of the way. journeymen bob mcclure, jim slaton, dwight bernard, moose haas, and pete ladd saved games down the stretch for the crew, who were locked in a thrilling race with the baltimore orioles. by my quick glance, the makeshift pen blew only one game in september and was superb in the alcs, saving all three victories and notching the win in the decisive game 5. but in the world series . . . . not so good. the relievers couldn't hold a tie in game 2 and blew a 7th-inning lead in game 7 and were charged with both losses; the cardinals took the title.

of course, there were the '85 cardinals, the ultimate committee-closer team. they went into october with no full-time closer, but that didn't represent a change in policy -- they'd been thriving that way all season. dayley, lahti, and worrell all saved games in the postseason, and the 'pen was flawless until . . . . .

you know.

the upshot here is that the cards will do this season what very few playoff teams before them have done: head into october with a closer who's only had the job for three weeks.

more postseason tea leaves: about a year ago, the guys from baseball prospectus established a short list of characteristics that successful postseason teams tend to possess. citing baseball prospectus directly, those characteristics are:

  • A power pitching staff, as measured by normalized strikeout rate
  • A good closer, as measured by WXRL (or win expectancy added)
  • A good defense, as measured by FRAA (or fielding runs above average)
"Of the dozens of team characteristics that we tested for statistical significance," nate silver wrote yesterday at baseball prospectus, "in terms of their relationship with winning post-season games and series, these were the only three that mattered. Ending the year hot doesn't make a whit of difference, for example, nor does having a veteran club, or a smallball offense." this helps explain why so many of us have screamed and screamed all year about anthony reyes (and aj burnett, and dontrelle willis, and jason schmidt, etc etc): high-strikeout staffs have a much better postseason track record than pitch-to-contact staffs. reyes may not be a very polished pitcher, nor even (on balance) a very good one, but he's the closest thing the cardinals have to a power pitcher -- and hence their only hope (foolish though it may be) of improving their postseason profile.

silver ran the numbers yesterday to determine which 2006 teams possess the best mix of the three key postseason ingredients, and the cardinals ranked . . . . . . well, i'll let silver speak for himself:

The Cardinals, finally, are a truly poor post-season club. Chris Carpenter and the defense are assets, but this is much the same group of pitchers that was destroyed by the 2004 Red Sox. . . . Losing Jason Isringhausen, at least, figures to be a blessing in disguise.
st louis ranked dead last among the 30 mlb teams in normalized k rate, 10th out of 30 in fielding, and 22d of 30 in closer performance. those numbers don't tell us anything we don't already know: the cardinals face long odds this october. but they're still gonna have games on the calendar; they'll still show up and try to win them.

and we'll still be watching.

baseball prospectus's forecasting system loves the twins (even removing liriano from the equation), mets, and yankees; the phillies and padres profile as the next-best nl contenders behind the mets, but they trail by a considerable margin.

p.s.: don't forget to order your red VEB t-shirts. 'nother reminder (gack --- sorry): if you expressed an interest in this thread in getting a red t-shirt, that does not constitute an actual order; that was just to help the vendor gauge how many red shirts to produce. to actually get your shirt(s), you still have to click on the store link and place an actual order there, with a shipping address and payment information and all that stuff.