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a short window

the latest update in the Daily Fix baseball contest posted today, w/ commentary from me and a bunch of other know-it-alls.

the 2-1 loss yesterday was the cardinals' 3d defeat by that score in the month of august; rich hill and brad penny also dealt them 2-1 losses. and it was their 5th defeat since the all-star break in which they yielded only 2 runs. to put that into context, only 7 teams have lost as many as 5 games all season when yielding 2 runs; the cards have lost that many in a month and a half. over that span they have won only 1 game when scoring fewer than 4 runs, and only 3 games when scoring fewer than 5. something tells me the spate of low-scoring losses is going to come back to haunt the cardinals.

yesterday's loss guarantees that the cardinals will enter september with a losing record. i did a little spot-checking, and unless i missed something there has only been one playoff team in history that entered september with a losing record: the 1973 mets. they were 9 games under on the morning of september 1, at 62-71, 5.5 games behind the division-leading cardinals (who were only 2 games over), but new york went 20-8 in september and clinched on the final day, then came within a game of winning it all. that was only the 5th season of divisional play, and the first indication that winning a baseball championship might not always mean what it used to back in the good ol' days. . . . a couple of other teams, the 2005 padres and 1984 royals, were right at .500 at september's outset, and both teams fell under .500 after september 1. the royals didn't reach .500 for good until september 4; in the case of the padres, they were under .500 as late as september 27 --- yet still were comfortably ahead in their division (4 games up with only 5 to play). of these three precedents, the only one that might be even slightly applicable is that of the '84 royals. like this year's cards, that was an aged team with a long string of division titles behind it; they didn't pitch particularly well (7th in era in a 14-team league) and couldn't score (11th in runs), and they bumbled along under .500 nearly all season and only stayed in the race by virtue of weak competition. through august 31 they were 2 games out in a 3-way race that was led at that point by minnesota (the angels were also in the mix). the royals won it with pitching (is there any other way?) --- in 28 september games they posted a 3.27 era and allowed just 100 overall runs, or 3.6 a game.

the cards' own pitching situation gained some clarity yesterday; la russa told rick hummel the cards probably will go with 6 starters down the stretch, with mulder joining the current group of 5. tony's trying to protect wainwright and looper, who are both at or above 150 innings and in their first season as big-league starters. "this ensures that they're going to have that extra freshness," la russa said --- suddenly images of vacuum-packaged baked goods loom before my eyes. . . . . i can't say i have a strong opinion one way or the other. going with a 6-man rotation will cost each of the 5 current members of the rotation 1 start down the stretch, but the only pitcher for whom that really matters is wainwright; he's the only one who's good enough that you'd care about maximizing his contribution. it doesn't look as if he's flagging to me; his innings total is not high at all (163.1), and he has only topped 100 pitches in half his starts. he does not have a tender young arm that needs to be sheltered from overuse; today is adam's 26th birthday. i'd like to see him take 6 or 7 starts in the final month, instead of 5 or 6. but i seriously doubt that it's going to decide the race. if the cards are still in it with 2 weeks to go, tony can always revert to a 5-man cycle, so wainwright might end up with the same number of starts he'd have had anyway.

of course, there's another possibility --- a kind of obvious one --- that i haven't heard any discussion of: trade one of 'em. the dodgers, braves, phillies, and rockies are desperate for pitching, and the top two contenders for the al wild-card (yankees and mariners) both could use some rotation reinforcements. looper would be a clear upgrade for any of those teams, and some among'm might consider wells an improvement. toss in one of the surplus relievers, and the cards might get a worthwhile prospect out of the deal. . . . . such a move would hardly constitute "quitting," by the way --- last i checked, 5 starting pitchers were usually considered sufficient for a pennant race (if that's what the cards are in). if they did find a taker for one of their pitchers, they could plug in a replacement (mulder) who's probably no worse than the departee --- ie, who's probably capable of a 5.00 era. jocketty has a surplus, and a short window in which to deal from it; i hope the opportunity arises.