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Don't call it a comeback, we've been here for years.

So, lb was kind enough to point out that the last Cardinals team to be more than five games out of 1st place at the half, yet still make the playoffs was the 2001 Cardinals. I thought that, today, it might be instructive to see how the 2001 Cardinals match up against the current squad. Using baseball reference's team starter database, we can directly compare the teams' starters:

Position 2001 2007
C Matheny Molina
1B McGwire Pujols
2B Viña Kennedy
3B Polanco Rolen
SS Renteria Eckstein
LF Lankford Duncan
CF Edmonds Edmonds
RF Drew Encarnación
Util Pujols Spezio

I added a Utility slot mainly due to the oddity of Pujols’ 2001 campaign: he played in 161 games, but split time almost evenly between the two corner infield spots and the two corner outfield spots. As lb stated in the article linked above, the 2001 team entered the half at .500, going 43-43. Of course, the 2007 squad, if we hadn’t had the series of horrific errors against the Giants that we witnessed going into the break, could have ended the half with an eerily similar 42-43. Let’s compare these positional players, though, using the day to day database

  • Catcher:

    Matheny at the break: .241/.321/.315, 3 HR, 216 AB

    Molina, YTD: .268/.326/.325, 1 HR, 157 AB.

    These two guys are mostly a wash. The batting lines are pretty similar, with the main differences being that Molina missed some time with that injury, and this guy saw a decent amount of time at catcher that year, probably bringing their overall numbers a little closer.

  • First base:

    McGwire at the break: .184/.297/.400, 8 HR, 125 AB

    Albert, YTD: .310/.411/.516, 16 HR, 310 AB.

    Big Mac was at the beginning of his decline phase here, and he was injured a good amount of the first half. In the second half, he played more games, and at least recovered his home run stroke hitting twenty one homers, and slugging .557. He ended that year with twenty nine home runs, twenty three singles, and four doubles, obtaining one of the strangest lines I have ever seen. I guess he would say that we’re not here to talk about the past, though. Albert, comparatively, isn’t struggling anywhere near as much.

  • Second base:

    Viña at the break: .301/.362/.419, 3 HR, 339 AB.

    Kennedy, YTD: .210/.280/.252, 0 HR, 214 AB

    This almost makes me cry. I forgot how good the pre-decline Viña was in the leadoff spot. I have trouble believing that I complained about that guy not stealing enough. And I was well aware that Kennedy was bad this year, but I hadn’t actually seen that "slugging" percentage, nor stacked it up against that of a good middle infielder. Ick.

  • Third base:

    Polanco at the break: .336/.375/.392, 3 HR, 268 AB

    Rolen, YTD: .267/.345/.380, 4 HR, 255 AB

    I never would have expected these guys to have OPSes so close to each other, or for Scottie to have the lower one, but here are the cold, hard numbers. Polanco continued to hit down the stretch, but slowed down significantly (.312 OPB in the second half), while maintaining his same basic profile as a slap singles hitter with a slick glove. I absolutely loved the secret weapon, jr. while he was here, but this comparison shows just how much Rolen needs to recover his power stroke in the second half if the team is going to have a chance

  • Shortstop:

    Rentería at the break: .235/.287/.329, 5 HR, 246 AB

    Eck, YTD: .313/.357/.385, 2 HR, 192 AB

    Eck is hurt, but at least the 2007 version of the x-factor hasn’t hurt the team with his bat. edGAR, by contrast, once again shows in this line his penchant for crazily streaky play, as he squabbled with TLR about being moved around in the lineup, eschewing the #2 spot, but (if my memory serves me), being relegated to the #8 spot by the time he had assembled this line. He greatly improved in the second half, however, going .283/.341/.413 while exhibiting his excellent defense. He certainly always was the perfect player to go over to Boston, right?

  • Left Field:

    Lankford at the break: .237/.360/.522, 14 HR, 228 AB

    Duncan, YTD: .288/.380/.547, 16 HR, 236 AB

    Duncan clearly has had the better of these two half season, but not by all that much. Ray maintained pretty much this same pace through the second half, missing time to an injury. Duncan probably stands to get a few more AB as he demonstrates an ability to hit left handed pitching.

  • Centerfield:

    2001 Edmonds: .292/.394/.529, 13 HR, 257 AB

    2007 Edmonds: .238/.308/.394, 7 HR, 193 AB

    He’s been hurt, and when healthy, he’s not been as good as he used to be. He’s still got a power stroke, and still plays above average OF, and still plays a streaky game, but a .238 average and a DL stint from a core player is not the type of thing that gets a team into the playoffs. By the way, in 2001, Edwards improved on ths pace, hitting seventeen more home runs, and OPSing over 1 to lead the team into the playoffs. The child in me would smile very, very deeply if we ever got to see him do that again.

  • Right Field:

    Drew at the break: .330/.426/.688, 21 HR, 218 AB

    Enc, YTD: .269/.301/.462, 6 HR, 171 AB.

    Here, you have the battle of the players that Cardinal fans irrationally hate far beyond any actual transgressions or opportunity costs created by said players. This was the year that you thought that JD Drew was going to finally show that MVP talent that he had, and until this stupid game, that is exactly what was happening. Drew came back on the thirty first of July, and was a very solid player for the rest of the season, but he hasn’t since exhibited the level of play that he displayed in the first half of the 2001 season. Stupid drunk Boomer.

  • Utility player:

    Albert at break: .323/.391/.594, 21 HR, 313 AB

    Spezio, YTD: .282/.363/.412, 6 HR, 170 AB

    Few things are as fundamentally unfair as trying to compare Albert to a utility bench player. Spezio is the representative from this team that probably most closely approximates Albert’s role on the 2001 team, albeit much, much more poorly. 2001 was Albert’s rookie year, and he was supposed to be up for a cup of coffee while Bobby Bonilla got healthy. When a rookie puts up a line like this, however, you find a place to play him. And that is what the Cardinals did. Albert basically replaced the production that was lost from the 2000 McGwire/Will Clark combination, and certainly helped keep this team in contention at the half.

Well, this hardly makes me feel better about the Cardinals’ chances this season. The 2007 squad has a big advantage at 1B, and at SS, and a slight advantage at LF, but aside from that, the 2001 squad is all around better. Edmonds has simply declined since those days, Drew is much, much better than Encarnación, and Viña is so much better than Kennedy that this sentence is a waste of electrons.

On the other hand, on paper, and suspending my knowledge of the outcome of the 2001 season, the 2007 squad has a lot more room for improvement: the 2007 team is full of underperforming stars and veterans that could rebound to their career norms. The only players that this is true of on the 2001 team are McGwire and Rentería. Lankford didn’t even finish out the season in St. Louis, being replaced by Craig Pauquette and his flash-in-the-pan season on the final roster. So, the offense in 2007 has a lot more improvement than the offense did in 2001. In fact, the 2001 offense got slightly worse in the second half of the 2001 season. The story of the team’s comeback second half is in the pitching: they allowed 403 runs in the first half, and allowed only 281 (3.6/game!) in the second half. If people are interested, I might do a similar analysis of the pitching of the two teams, to see what the prospects of a comeback are…