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close and late

think la russa wanted that one? 11 outs from his setup man and closer; i can't think of a single instance in which he has managed that way before, not even in a postseason game. it was only the 2d time this year franklin entered a game as early as the 6th inning; the previous time was a 15-6 blowout win over oakland back on june 16. izzy hadn't been asked to convert a 6-out save all year. he did, however, have three previous 2-inning stints, all of which began in the 9th and continued through the 10th. in 2 of the 3 prior instances, he held the opposition scoreless in his 2d inning of work; and the 3d time he yielded a meaningless run.

i think tony figured he had to get through the heart of the cubs' order 2 more times, so he played platoon matchups with percival/flores the first time through (ie, the 6th inning) and planned on using franklin the 2d time through. when percival and flores didn't get the job done, he had to call franklin in ahead of schedule. i like that la russa showed the flexibility to let his relievers roam off their usual reservations; indeed, in retrospect i wonder if he should have considered carrying that idea further by bringing in franklin to start the 6th. the cards led by two at the time, and the cubs' two best hitters (lee and ramirez) were up; if franklin worked efficiently he might have stayed out there to complete the 7th. then the matchup guys could've faced the 9-1-2 hitters in the 8th with at least a 2-run lead, and izzy could come in (if the game were still close) to face lee and ramirez and however many other guys it took to close things out.

that would make more sense to me than the way things actually went down in the 6th inning ---- ie, the weaker relievers faced the best hitters and let the cubs back into the game, while franklin faced the rump of the order. if you're prepared to use franklin that early anyway, maybe he should pitch to the tougher hitters. . . . . to be clear, i'm not criticizing tony's handling of the situation; i'm merely pondering alternatives. la russa probably sent percival out there in the hope that franklin and izzy would only have to pitch an inning apiece --- or maybe not at all, if the cards tacked on more runs. he didn't use his most powerful weapons until he had to --- but it's telling that when he had to, he didn't hesitate. it was a game he really, really wanted to win.

it leaves the cardinals 4-7 vs the cubs this year, in a series that has contained its usual share of oddities. am i the only one who thought that the team that hit the ball hardest lost all three games in this series? the hit that put the cardinals ahead for good, rolen's "double" in the 3d inning, certainly wasn't well struck . . . . but it has gone the other way a number of times as well. if we look at the head-to-head stats, it's hard to distinguish one team from the other:

cubs 381 99 27 12 .260 .311 .428 | 52 50.2 45.3
cards 372 92 34 16 .247 .317 .417 | 43 50.2 45.6

the last two columns in the table are base runs and linear weights, the two most accurate run-scoring models --- and they show the teams to be almost dead even. that's to be expected; they've had the exact same number of baserunners (126 apiece) and almost identical extra-base output (.170 isolated power for the cards, .168 for the cubs). yet the cubs have plated 9 runs more than the cardinals . . . . what gives? blame it on the RISP situations, of which i wrote not long ago. here's how the teams have fared during the first 11 games of the series:


cubs 96 .308 .344 .505
cards 86 .169 .198 .361


cubs 59 .352 .407 .574
cards 39 .132 .154 .263

the cards haven't been able to buy a clutch hit, while the cubs have piled one on top of the other. rolen's two-out, two-strike double in the first inning yesterday was a real difference-maker --- it literally provided the margin of victory. it was the cards' only hit in the entire series with two out and men in scoring position, and only their 2d one all season at wrigley; they're 2 for 23 with 2 out and RISP in the friendly confines this year.

you might say the cubs have simply been lucky in their confrontations vs the cardinals this year; or you might say the cubs taken better at-bats, and made better pitches, in the clutch. both statements are probably partially true. but when you consider that the cubs' advantage in head-to-head games accounts for their entire margin over the cardinals in the standings --- and then you consider that their advantage head-to-head over st louis boils down to a couple dozen plate appearances with men on base . . . . . let's just say that all signs point to a one-game playoff to decide the division.

and it'll probably go extra innings.

p.s.: armchair gm wants to know how you like your rick ankiel.