in the game thread yesterday, somebody called this the ugliest three-game sweep they've ever witnessed; aptly put. the box scores seem more fit for deadball-era 1907 baseball than the 2007 game --- a lotta singles and a whole lotta outs; each side mustered one home run in the three games. as la russa put it in the last line of the post's game recap, "[T]his better not be the best we play all year because it won't be good enough."
but in some ways, the inelegance of what the cardinals just accomplished in pittsburgh makes it all the more encouraging. they swept a series from the hungry, hot-starting pirates despite no innings from carpenter and a combined MV3 output of two runs and one rbi. the weather was dispiriting; so were carpenter's injury status (which only became known on the eve of the series), albert's struggles, the failing health of rolen and spiezio (and, it goes without saying, edmonds), and the season-long malaise of the offense. to grind out three wins under those circumstances --- well, this is a team that will have to take its wins however it can get them for a while. they weren't impressive, but they were well earned. the cards played with determination and with sharpness afield, a welcome contrast to the dull title-hangover stupor that seemed to grip them in the opening series. they appear to be back in play-a-hard-9 mode --- and a team with so little margin for error can't afford not to be.
i don't mean to downplay the cards' run-scoring problems, which are very real and probably only can be solved via a trade. it's true that rolen and pujols are bound to heat up at some point, but that doesn't really solve anything. those guys aren't machines; this won't be the last time they slump during the year. if the team's current output (2.89 runs/game) is all we can expect when those two aren't producing, then the team has problems.
but does 2.89 runs per game accurately reflect the cards' productivity to date? i would argue that it's an underrepresentation. the cardinals have lost an inordinately high number of guys on the bases this year, and that has artificially depressed their already meager runs-scored total. to start with, they've lost two runners on failed squeeze plays; two others were lost on the bases, and a third was nailed when he was put in motion on a 3-2 pitch --- strike-em-out, throw-em-out. which leads to the biggest distortion in the cards' run-scoring record to date: double plays. they have grounded into 12 this year and lined into 3 others, plus the lost runner on the 3-2 strikeout --- 16 double plays in 9 games, which extrapolates to 288 double plays over 162 games. last year the average offense suffered 151 double plays --- that's all types, including lineouts, strike-out-throw-outs, etc. at that rate, we'd expect the cardinals to have hit / run into about 9 double plays so far this year; using tangotiger's run expectancy matrix, we can guesstimate that the extra 7 dps have cost the cards between 4 and 5 runs.
another minor distortion: the cardinals have only reached base via error twice this season, a rate of 36 times per 162 games. given an average rate of opposition errors, they should have picked up a couple of extra baserunners and, we'd expect, another run.
it's still not such a pretty picture --- the "adjusted" production is only about 3.5 runs per game ---- but if 3.5 runs per game is what they can expect with albert, scotty, and jimmy all scuffling simultaneously, then maybe the situation's not quite as dire as it looks. to reiterate: i'm not trying to pretend that the offense doesn't have big problems. i'm not trying to make those problems disappear through statistical sleight of hand. i'm just trying to look at all the indicators and do as precise an accounting as possible. we can reasonably expect the team to score more runs in the future, no matter what rolen pujols and edmonds do.
one other way to look at this: compare the cards' overall offensive numbers to those of their opponents:
"whp" means walks plus hit batters. the cards have had 6 fewer baserunners than their opponents (106-100) while amassing 4 more total bases; they're dead even in OPS. all other things being equal, you'd expect the runs-scored totals to come out about equal. but the cards have been outscored by .67 runs per game --- that's the cumulative effect of the skewed totals in double plays and lost baserunners.
the cards' big bats will eventually get going --- but then, the same is true of their opponents. we can't expect st louis pitchers to hold the opposition to that line all season. but opponents can't expect to keep turning two dps per game against the cardinals, while playing nearly error-free baseball. this offense is better than what it has shown so far.