Well, the Cardinals decided to continue the winning streak again last night. In past years, four games would be fun, but hardly significant. This year, however, it seems like an absolute godsend. I have spent the past week traveling across the midwest for various reasons, and am finally back in St. Louis for a week. I was out watching the game in an actual sports bar for the first time in ages. I therefore haven't yet read through the game thread from yesterday, but that game really did look like a game played by a team that knows how to win. There was only one point in the game where I was filled with the customary 2007 feeling of dread: when Randy "D'Artagnan" Flores took the mound to clean up Russ Springer's mess in the seventh inning. Springer had just looked like he had come unglued, and D'Artagnan hardly looked like he had a confident look in his eyes as he took the ball for Russ.
But the results worked out.
Now on to something totally different: a few weeks ago, I looked at the 2007 Cardinals hitting when compared to the last team that came back from this deep of a hole in the first half: the 2001 Cardinals. What I found was that the 2001 Cardinals' offense had much less room to improve than the current squad does, and therefore inferred that the comeback was fueled by pitching (which it certainly was). We're eighteen games into the first half, and the current team has gone 10-8 since the all star game, which happens to be identical to the record complied by the 2001 squad in their first eighteen games after the all star break. Let's look at the two teams' pitching staffs, and compare their first halves:
1. Darryl Kile: 9-6, 3.35 ERA, 123.67 IP, 97 K, 31 BB
1. Adam Wainwright: 7-7, 4.46 ERA, 102.33 IP, 59 K, 40 BB
Obviously, DK was much, much better than the Wagonmaker is at this point in the season. This comparison is still probably a little skewed in Kile's favor than the stat lines would indicate, considering how poorly Wainwright started the season out, and how well he is pitching as of now. Interesting that the two aces of these teams have those huge breaking curveballs, though Wainwright's golden hammer still isn't quite on par with that absurd Kile rainbow.
2. Matt Morris, 10-5, 3.23 ERA, 114.33 IP, 79 K, 29 BB
2. Braden Looper 6-7, 4.72 ERA, 95.33 IP, 43 K, 32 BB
If the Wainwright/Kile performance is made better by recent performance, the Looper/Morris comparison is made worse by the fact that Looper started the season out so effectively. Morris ended up pitching even more effectively down the stretch, going 12-3 with a 3.09 ERA. Here's to hoping that B. Looper can improve.
3. Dustin Hermanson, 6-7, 5.19 ERA, 102.33 IP, 60 K, 39 BB
3. Kip H. Kipperton, 3-11, 5.92 ERA, 92.67 IP, 71 K, 42 BB
Well, Hermanson had an awesome stretch run, putting up a 3.6 ERA. Wells seems to have turned some sort of corner, where he at least mixes good outings with horrible outings, and his K/BB ratio certainly looks better than Hermanson's did. I really don't think Wells is as bad as his first half was, and certainly will improve as the season goes on. Whether or not he improves enough to help the team is an open question. Well, at least we have two guys who flourished in the bullpen (even though Dustin did it for another team) stacked up against each other.
4. Alan Benes 6-6, 6.95 ERA, 89.33 IP, 62 K, 42 BB
4. Brad Thompson (overall) 6-3, 4.90 ERA, 82.67 IP, 31 K, 24 BB
I think we all remember how bad Benes was in the first half that year. In particular, the inside the park home run to Ken Griffey Jr. will forever stick in my head (though that might have been 2002). Thompson has pitched better than anyone could expect this year. These guys, of coursee, could hardly be less similar, of course, Benes on the twilight of his career, and Thompson being a AAAA guy. Benes, of course, started only one more game for the rest of the season, and was replaced by Bud Smith in the rotation, who put up a 2.3 ERA and pitched a no-no. Here's to hoping that we can find someone who pitched that well. Regardless, that K/BB ratio for Thompson does not look too encouraging.
5. Mike Matthews, 3-3, 3.05 ERA, 59 IP, 50 K, 19 BB
5. Anthony Reyes, 0-10, 6.40 ERA, 64.67 IP, 31 K, 24 BB
This, of course, was one of the huge problems with the Cardinals in the first half. Matthews got replaced by Woody Williams and his absurd run after the trade deadline last year. Reyes has already shown signs of improvement after getting called up. If Reyes can continue his success, and push a few of the guys above here further down the depth chart, then perhaps this team has a chance of actually having an upgraded rotation.
- Closer: Dave Veres 11 SV, 35 K, 17 BB, 35.33 IP, 3.31 ERA
Closer: Jason Isringhausen, 17 SV, 29 K, 13 BB, 35.33 IP, 1.53 ERA
I usually don't like relievers' ERA due to the inherited runners issue, but with TLR closers, I'm less concerned. These guys look very good, and are much closer to interchangeable than I thought that they were. Of course, Izzy has been more dominant, with a WHIP less than one, and only two HR allowed on the season. The best we can hope for is that Izzy continues to perform at the level he has this season.
- Primary Lefty: Steve Kline: 2 SV, 31 K, 16 BB, 40.33 IP, 2.45 ERA
Primary Lefty: Randy Flores, 1 SV, 28 K, 8 BB, 31.33 IP, 4.60 ERA
Ick. Kline was very good for us, and Flores has been struggling as of late. Here's to hoping that either he can turn it around, or that Johnson comes back with that wicket slider and can displace Flores from his role on the team.
- Set-up: Mike Timlin: 2 SV, 32 K, 12 BB, 48.67 IP, 3.51 ERA
Set-up: Ryan Franklin: 0 SV, 17 K, 4 BB, 44.0 IP, 1.23 ERA
I never thought that I'd see a control-oriented reliever have this dominant of a season, but Ryan Franklin seems to be doing it right now. Even with last nights outing, he's having a spectacular season bouncing back from middling performances in recent years. Timlin was a solid reliever most of his years here, though Tony's usage of him was particularly frustrating for me, as TLR seemed to insist on pitching him for three innings in circumstances where, to a humble observer, it seemed like it would make more sense to use one of his other numerous bullpen options.
There are a few other guys who were in the mix that season, and we haven't factored in the Todd Wellemeyer experience, but I would think that would be loosely mirrored by Rick Ankiel's last stand in the rotation in 2001, both with regard to performance and their eventual removal. The rotation was the primary reason why the 2001 Cardinals were able to so dramatically reverse their fortunes--three of those guys just had spectacular second halves, and the other two were replaced by a stellar rookie season by Bud Smith and an even more stellar stretch run by Woody Williams insertion in the rotation after the Ray Lankford trade.
There is certainly room for hope in the current squad, with Reyes and Wells certainly capable of doing better than their first half. Mulder could potentially play the role of Williams. Maroth needs to turn things around, however.
In the end, the 2007 Cardinals are going to have to improve both offensively and defensively in order to contend, while the 2001 Cardinals only needed to shore up their rotation. Since the team has chosen not to sell, let's hope that these guys can get things together. Given the underperformance of several players on the roster, I think they should at least be able to hang around and not get mathematically eliminated until the last couple of weeks of the season.