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program note: Valatan, who guest-blogged so admirably during my vacation last month, accepted my invitation to continue guest-blogging on a regular basis. starting tomorrow, he's the wednesday blogger --- i'm very happy he'll be contributing in an ongoing capacity. so our rotation is now set for the stretch run: Valatan on wednesdays, Reverend Redbird on sundays, and yours truly at all times in between. thanks again to V and The Rev for their support.

watching pesky aaron miles break up that no-hitter yesterday, i started wondering: how's the leadoff slot been holding up in eckstein's absence? survey says:

ab r h w+
hbp
hr rbi avg obp slg
eck overall 477 65 138 45 1 21 .289 .349 .329
eck post-
concussion
210 22 52 17 0 4 .248 .304 .267
post eck 65 10 19 6 3 5 .299 .357 .469

eck splits data courtesy day by day database. obviously a lot more sock coming out of the leadoff slot in eckstein's absence, which has now lasted 15 games. miles has led off in 9 of the those games and sketched a quick imitation of eckstein circa 2005 --- a .325 / .372 / .375 line; p wilson has led off 4 times and mashed two hr. despite the improved production from the leadoff hole, the cards are just 8-7 over the 15 games; surprisingly, their team scoring avg is down --- they're only scoring 4.6 runs a game without eckstein, vs 4.8 rpg with him. there's an easy explanation for that disjunction: eckstein's absence has coincided with a more critical absence -- edmonds'. 'nother table:

ab r h w+
hbp
hr rbi avg obp slg
edmonds 335 50 87 53 18 65 .260 .356 .475
replacements 80 11 19 4 8 6 .238 .274 .450

that .274 on-base pct post-edmonds hurts a lot --- lotta outs being piled up by his two replacements, p wilson and taguchi. that's no knock against either player; i thought wilson was a logical pickup, and his 4 hr since joining the cardinals are very well received. but he is what he is -- an out machine. the st louis lineup already has one of those (y molina, .267 obp) and can ill-afford another. as uneven as edmonds has been this year with the bat, the cardinals still miss him.

back to the leadoff slot for a second: per espn, the cardinals rank next-to-last among nl teams this season in leadoff-man OPS. that's a steep drop from last season, when they ranked 6th in a strong field. i got to wondering how the cards' other batting-order slots rank --- and how this year's ranks compare to last year's. last table:

06 ops 05 ops diff 06 rk 05 rk diff
1st .672 .773 -.101 15 6 -9
2d .747 .746 +.001 9 7 -2
3d 1.080 1.026 +.054 1 1 --
4th .975 .870 +.105 2 5 +3
5th .813 .810 +.003 6 8 +2
6th .687 .707 -.020 15 16 +1
7th .694 .798 -.104 12 4 -8
8th .701 .619 +.082 8 16 +8
9th .544 .457 +.097 3 13 +10

bless those pitchers; they haven't pitched this year, but they sure have hit.

take the table as a whole, and only one thing has changed from last year to this year: the leadoff slot has slumped big-time. true, there's a major dropoff in the #7 hole, but that's more than erased by the gains in slots #8 and #9. so the bottom of the order is a push, and in slots 2 through 6 the cards have lost no ground, maybe gained a little; that leaves the leadoff slot. but before we all jump over eckstein, recall that through the season's 1st 10 weeks -- before he injured his bean -- eck was repeating his career year of 2005. through june 15th his line was .322 / .383 / .378 --- a .761 ops, 3 points better than last year's personal best. after his concussion, he came back much diminished.

or maybe it's not as simple as the leadoff slot. last year, the cardinals got league avg or better production from 6 of the 8 batting-order slots; only two (the #6 and #8 slots) were below .747 in ops. this year, they're getting replacement-level production -- .701 ops or worse -- from 4 of the 8 slots (#s 1, 6, 7, and 8). which is why, despite the career-peak production levels from duncan / pujols / rolen / encarnacion, the offense ranks just 7th in runs scored.

still, the cost of the two concussions -- eckstein's and edmonds' -- has been high. and will be higher still come october, if one or both players still can't perform at his best.