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even chance

these last two games are ones the cards have been finding ways to lose all year long. even tuesday night's victory, keyed by hanley ramirez's generous overthrow, required a succession of two-out rbi hits --- the type, you'll recall, that the cardinals haven't been getting very often this year. it comes as no surprise that molina drove in the tying run in both games; as documented this winter, he's been one of the cardinals' most consistent clutch hitters (if you believe in such a thing) since he joined the team. yadi is now hitting .383 / .458 / .600 during august, far and away the best hitting month of his career; in 14 previous months as an everyday catcher, only once has he posted an average above .300. yadi's current outburst has occurred while he's been catching nearly day (he has started all but 3 games this month) in withering temperatures. his isolated power since the all-star break (.128) is more than double the figure he posted in the first half. strong dude.

the cardinals now stand on the threshold of .500; if they get there tonight, it will mark the first time in more than 4 months; they were 6-6 back on april 16. earlier this year mike carminati wrote a long post about teams that took forever to get to .500. since the cardinals did, in fact, briefly attain the .500 mark in april, they technically don't belong on this list, but the lesson still applies: teams that spend must of the year under .500 and finally get to it in a late rush almost never make the playoffs. of course, those earlier teams didn't play in the nl central . . . . . notably, however, the one recent team on carminati's list that did make the playoffs --- the 1974 pirates --- occupied a division that was about as weak as the nl central. that would be the old nl east, which the previous season produced a champion with an 82-79 record. the '74 pirates were not unlike the current cardinals --- a past-prime juggernaut in a subprime league. they had won 3 straight titles from 1970-72, but they stumbled to 80-82 in 1973 and started the 1974 season with 6 consecutive losses. as late as june 12 they were in last place, 9 games out of first place with a 21-34 record. a month later they were still 12 games under but had moved up to 4th place and 6.5 games out as their competitors all came back to earth (does this sound familiar?). by august 4 they had moved up to 5 games under .500 and 4.5 games out of first; and by the time they reached the .500 mark on august 12, they were in 3d place and just 2.5 games back. here were the standings:

cards 61 56 --
phils 59 57 1.5
pirates 58 58 2.5

the pirates reached .500 in their 116th game (the cardinals have now been under .500 for 111 consecutive games). from that point forward the pirates won 8 of their next 11, went 31-16 down the stretch, and clinched on the last day, knocking out the cardinals. they lost to the dodgers 3 games to 1 in the nlcs.

can the 2007 cardinals pull off something similar? they've now won 11 of their last 15, the team's best 15-game stretch in over a year; they last equaled it in july 2006, when they won 12 of 15 at one point. (they did manage a 10-5 stretch earlier this season, from may 22 to june 5.) they've had 7 blowout wins during this little streak, while the losses were pretty close ones --- a pair by 1 run, one by 2 runs, one by 4. so that 11-4 record isn't a fluke; it accurately reflects the team's level of play. we'll see how long it lasts.

tom tango is running his annual "scouting report by the fans" project, an exercise in collectively assessing defensive ability. go here to rate the cardinal players. a few other items: