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the cubs have gone 22-13 since the zambrano / barrett throw-down on june 1, or (if you prefer) 22-12 since piniella lost it on some poor umpire the following day. what has changed? primarily their luck:

runs / g opp runs /g avg / obp / slg opp avg / obp / slg w-l
through june 2 4.5 4.2 .266 / .326 / .413 .246 / .320 / .398 22-31
since june 2 4.6 4.0 .273 / .329 / .410 .233 / .304 / .387 22-12

chicago has made a lot of cosmetic changes --- dumping one-fourth of their everyday lineup (michael barrett and jacque jones), finding regular playing time for mike fontenot, stuff like that --- but none of these moves has really made the difference. the improvement has been in the bullpen, and the major change out there has been the emergence of carlos marmol. on june 3, piniella began bringing this kid in to protect leads (prior to that he'd been strictly a mop-up man), and he hasn't blown a single one --- has 4 holds and a save to go along with 2 wins. his era stands at 0.96, and he's struck out 40 guys in 28 innings. the corresponding change is that scott eyre (6.60 era) has only pitched 8 times since june 3, and only once with a lead. prior to that, eyre coughed up 4 leads in the 7th inning or later, and the cubs lost all 4 games.

chicago is not outhitting the cards by much --- their edge in runs per game is just 4.55 runs / game to 4.33, and they've only got 4 more homers than our guys --- but the cubs have 5 starting pitchers with era's below 4.03. they're a good team --- a very good one, for this division.

milwaukee had a staff era of 3.33 back on may 9, but in the 2 months since then the team has posted a 4.58 mark (the cards are at 5.06 since then), and the brewers have gone only 25-29, losing 1.5 games to st louis. over that span, chris capuano has an era of 7.20 in 8 starts, all of which the brewers have lost; they were 7-0 in his first 7 starts, in which he posted a 2.31 era. he missed 4 starts in there somewhere, so he's obviously hurt. suppan has been nearly as bad --- a 6.65 era in 12 starts since may 9. claudio vargas has pitched abysmally as well during this stretch (5.80 era in 9 starts), but his won-lost record is 6-2, which might trick ned yost into keeping him in the rotation. the brewers have a deadly reinforcement at the ready --- rookie yovani gallardo has made 3 starts this year, all of the "quality" variety; opponents are batting just .222 against him and are striking out in 1/4 of their plate appearances. but suppan and capuano are in no danger of losing their slots, and vargas may hang onto his for a while by virtue of the misleading w-l record. the longer he hangs in there, the better for st louis and chicago.

the brewers lead the league in slugging and are 2d in runs scored, and the lineup's unbelievably deep. it doesn't matter who goes down, they keep hitting. rickie weeks has a bad wrist and hasn't homered since april 25 --- from that date forward he has been almost as bad as adam kennedy (.209 / .317 / .302). bill hall hasn't been himself all season; if i'm not mistaken, he went to the disabled list right before the break. jj hardy is plummeting back to earth, too --- in the last two months his ops is an eckstein-like .696. but all the brewers do is plug in a ryan braun (.663 slugging) or corey hart (.508) and keep bashing. of the 10 guys with the most at-bats so far this year, 8 are slugging .448 or better. for the cardinals, the corresponding number of players is 3 --- one of whom is fan favorite juan encarnacion. the other 7 are all slugging .394 or worse. phew.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Baseball Reference has a cool new toy --- league splits. hours and hours of time to be wasted with that one. the data only go back to last year, though. i gave it a test run by breaking out the cards' performance by position to see if they'd shored up any of the weak spots from last season. sadly, no --- their two sorest spots remain as raw as ever:
pos avg / obp / slg ops+ nl
rank
ml
rank
2006
ranks
catcher .239 / .279 / .312 69 16th 27th 16th / 30th
2d base .243 / .314 / .287 62 16th 30th 15th / 25th

but wait a sec --- wasn't yadi supposed to be having a breakout year with the bat? a few days before he broke his wrist, he lifted his batting average to .304 and his ops to .747. but he went 0 for 13, then busted his hand; a 4-for-7 breakout in his first two games off the dl got his average back to .289, but he is just 3 for 22 since then. the cardinals prefer that their backup catchers not hit, and bennett / stinnett have obliged --- the former's ops+ is 48, the latter's just 25.

as for adam kennedy, if it makes you feel any better, the team that signed the best 2d baseman on the free-agent market this year, ray durham, for two years at $7m per --- that'd be the giants --- ranks just 25th among the 30 mlb clubs at this position. they're also 5 games further under .500 than the cardinals. . . . . there are now two good-hitting 2bmen at memphis, edgar gonzalez (.801 ops) and jarrett hoffpauir (8 for 17 in his first 5 triple A games).

pos avg / obp / slg ops+ nl
rank
ml
rank
2006
ranks
1st base .311 / .411 / .514 128 2d 3d 2d / 2d

not bad for an off-year, albert.
pos avg / obp / slg ops+ nl
rank
ml
rank
2006
ranks
shortstop .299 / .336 / .373 94 9th 15th 10th / 15th
third base .265 / .342 / .381 89 12th 21st 3d / 3d

ok, so the 3bmen's numbers are indistinguishable from those of the shortstops; no big deal. the third base rankings tell the whole story of the offense --- the biggest decline from last season, dropping off by something on the order of 30 runs so far. as a team, the 2007 cardinals have scored 58 fewer runs than last year's club through 85 games, so rolen alone accounts for half the deficit. david eckstein and brendan ryan have combined to homer once every 58 at-bats; scottie has homered once every 64.

the cardinal shortstops rate as average for a 2d straight year, but that's meaningless because the primary player at the position hasn't been "average" at all in 2007. eckstein was so awful in april that la russa dumped him from the leadoff slot on may 1, and 10 games into that month he was hitting .207 with just 3 extra-base hits, all doubles; his ops was .516. that's as of may 12. over the next month he batted .457 with 7 extra-base hits (including 2 homers) and an ops of 1.063. supposedly he'll be back in the lineup tomorrow.

pos avg / obp / slg ops+ nl
rank
ml
rank
2006
ranks
leftfield .276 / .357 / .477 112 7th 8th 13th / 21st
centerfield .265 / .312 / .396 88 11th 21st 10th / 18th
rightfield .252 / .295 / .412 81 11th 25th 10th / 18th

chris duncan represents the only upgrade in the whole lineup; the cards have suffered declines or tread water at every other position. the dropoff in production from the centerfielders isn't as dramatic as i would have thought; edmonds has been much worse than last year, but taguchi has been much better, so they more or less cancel each other out. finally, we come to
pos avg / obp / slg ops nl
rank
ml
rank
2006
ranks
pitchers .178/ .201/ .244 150 2d 5th 1st / 5th

can't pitch, but they sure can hit. everybody wants to be ankiel, i guess. . . . .