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filter out the two sweeps at the hands of non-nl central foes, and the cardinals don't look half-bad:

cards v nl cent 10 6 68 59 .266 .322 .386 3.45
nl average 8 8 72 72 .256 .330 .400 3.94
cards vs ny+sf 0 5 9 32 .191 .280 .278 5.01

this split is nearly as random as the sunday / weekday split that has finally (whew) broken form --- nearly, but not quite. all along, the case for the cardinals as 2007 contenders has rested on the premise that they were no more flawed than the competition; they might be a mediocre club, but what nl central team stood poised to exploit them? the cards have now faced every divisional rival, and only one has beat them in a series --- the pirates. the early returns suggest that the cardinals, for all their very evident vulnerabilities, will still be able to compete within this group of 6 lousy teams.

the whupping they took in their opening series --- 2 runs scored, 20 against --- was so thorough that the cards still haven't quite wiped off the stain. since then, they've been about as middling as anticipated: 10 wins, 8 losses, 75 runs scored, 71 allowed. insofar as they have managed this with no contribution from carpenter and less-than-anticipated contributions from all of the mv3s . . . . well, you could spin that one either way. you could argue that once pujols really heats up and edmonds plays his way into shape and encarnacion stabilizes the outfield situation and carpenter gets back out there, the cardinals will start playing consistently well; that's not such a far-fetched scenario, is it? or you could argue that the cards have been exposed as an old, injury-prone team that will never get all cylinders firing in unison --- and will have to rely on braden looper to hold its rotation together.

it's gonna take another 60 or 80 or 100 games before we know which of those characterizations more accurately foretells the tale. in truth, the whole thing comes down to the health of two players --- edmonds and carpenter. if just one of them can start delivering, say, 75 percent of his usual value by memorial day, the cardinals probably will hang in there; if both players can get back to that point, the cardinals might be very good. but if both carp and edmonds remain nonfactors . . . . well, we'll always have our october '06 dvd collections.

carpenter will throw in the bullpen tomorrow, and the result of that session matters infinitely more than the results of this weekend's three sessions vs the cubs. i'm preparing myself for the worst --- with "worst" defined as more swelling in the elbow on sunday, arthroscopic surgery a few days after that, and no innings from carpenter until july or august. but i'm well aware that the worst might, in some respects, actually be better than the "best" outcome --- ie, a pronouncement of good health and carpenter's immediate return to active duty. because the latter will leave us wondering if (or when) the elbow will blow up on us again --- and if it does, season over. if the joint gets inflamed a month from now, it'll be too late to get carpenter scoped and back on a mound in time to help the team. whereas if they just scope him now, at least we can look forward to an injury-free carpenter for the stretch run. none of us is a doctor (well, except for those of you reading who are doctors), but we know what has happened when the cardinals have tried to nurse star players through injuries before. sometimes the risk pays off (viz. pujols' throwing arm in 2003), and sometimes it fails spectacularly (mulder and izzy '06, rolen '05). i realize that you can say the same thing about surgery, but for some reason i trust that solution more than i trust the "soft" fix of rest and medication. the latter puts me in mind of the time that i rode 20 or 30 miles on a frayed bicycle tire patched (the tire, not the tube) with a dollar bill and duct tape; with every turn of the wheel i expected the thing to blow out, and the suspense was excrutiating. . . . . the patch held, by the way. (dr paletta: in case you need me to apply this remedy to carpenter's elbow, i will leave the hotline open all weekend.)

as for edmonds . . . . i know i shouldn't do this, but it's too woefully telling:

edmonds 63 4 13 1 1 1 5 | .206 .286 .302
skip / so 60 5 14 5 0 0 4 | .233 .270 .317

that's a .588 ops for jimmy, .587 for his banjo-hitting understudies. i'd like to tell you that edmonds is showing improvement, but he isn't; he went .233 / .324 / .267 over the first 11 games of the schedule, and .195 / .267 / .317 over the last 10 games.

we're gonna watch him, and the cardinals, go through a lot more ups and downs before we have any clear indication of how good the team is.