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in the cardinals' biggest series of the year, miguel cairo was the hitting star. and there you have it, folks ---- the 2007 season, condensed into a sentence.

the games were close enough to leave some regrets. the cardinals got exactly what they needed, 4 well-pitched games --- or 3 well-pitched ones, anyway, plus a scrambling par; you couldn't have asked for more out of this staff. under other circumstances, they might well have led the team to a 4-game sweep --- and by "other circumstances," i mean having guys like rolen and encarnacion and duncan in the lineup. then again, maybe those players wouldn't have made a difference. as well as the cardinals pitched, the cubs pitched just a little bit better, and they probably would have done so against any collection of st louis hitters --- they do rank 3d in the league in pitching, after all (the cardinals are 11th). chicago won the season series 11-5, accounting for nearly all of their 7-game margin over the st louis; hats off to them. they still have much work to do (the brewers won yesterday to remain tied for first in the loss column), but whatever the cubs win will have been earned. i wish them well.

in both yesterday's game and saturday's early game, the cardinals yielded the decisive runs with 2 outs, reprising a trend i noted last month re their terrible 2-out RISP splits. you may recall from that old post that both the pitchers and the hitters had abysmal stats in this category --- the cardinal hitters were next-to-last in the league in batting average and last in ops, while the cardinals pitchers were dead last in opponent average. out of curiosity i decided to see if those trends have continued. here are the data, updated --- all figures below represent performance with 2 outs and runners in scoring position:

pa avg obp slg
batters thru 8/5 410 .217 .323 .332
batters since 8/5 155 .226 .326 .394
pitchers thru 8/5 451 .283 .377 .436
pitchers since 8/5 141 .192 .269 .305

well, the pitchers certainly have turned it around. this shouldn't surprise us, as the original post appeared right before the team's unbroken 10-game run of quality starts; since then, the cards have pitched better in all situations. but they have especially improved their results in 2-out RISP confrontations; they've been stranding runners with more regularity. or had been, until a couple of swings by murton and soriano over the weekend.

the hitters, by contrast, have continued to struggle. they've hit with a little more power (thank you, rick ankiel) but still haven't hit for average. the sabermetric value-adds (walks and extra bases) diminish in importance with 2 outs and RISP; a plain old base knock produces a run and keeps the inning alive. and the hell of it is, plain old base knocks are one of the few things this cardinal offense can reliably produce; they just haven't produced them when it matters the most. here's how the team fares vs. league average, taking the season as a whole:

HITTERS

pa avg obp slg
stl, 2 out RISP 565 .220 .324 .349
nl avg, 2 out RISP 11,453 .244 .355 .400
stl, all other 4,415 .277 .337 .415
nl avg, all other 71,720 .268 .330 .425

if we exclude 2-out RISP situations, the cardinals outperform the league in batting average by 9 points (.277 to .268); in 2-out RISP situations they lag it by 24 points. some of you will argue that this differential means nothing, that's it's simply attributable to random variation; perhaps that is true. but it takes an awful lot of bad luck to explain away a 57-point dropoff. maybe luck accounts for part of this split, but i think a couple of other factors have contributed as well. one is the fact that the cardinal lineup only has one truly dangerous hitter and is disproportionately reliant on him; this makes it easier than usual for opponents to set up favorable confrontations and slip out of jams. as a second factor, i cite the sheer weight of the baggage the cardinals have had to drag around this year --- substance abuse cases, steroid allegations, injuries, even a death. it's quite possible that the poor clutch hitting reflects the psychological stresses of the cardinals' season. as i put it in the original post: "i think the cardinals, for whatever reason, have gotten anxious in big situations this season --- haven't made good pitches, haven't taken good at-bats. confidence is not a mirage; states of mind can and do impact performance, on and off the baseball field. . . . [and] the cards' state of mind took a beating" this year.

here's a look at the pitchers, compared to league average:

PITCHERS

pa avg obp slg
stl, 2 out RISP 702 .262 .360 .405
nl avg, 2 out RISP 11,453 .244 .355 .400
stl, all other 4,451 .272 .332 .435
nl avg, all other 71,720 .268 .330 .425

here, random chance appears to be the driving factor. the cards' opponent obp and slugging are nearly league average in 2-out RISP situations, but their batting average is 18 points worse, which means they're giving up a ton more singles than the average staff --- ie more dinks and doinks and rollers through the hole. so you might be justified in saying they've been especially unlucky. but then, you might also be justified in saying that the cards' defense has been more porous than usual this year; or you might be justified in arguing that dinks and doinks and rollers through the hole are the inevitable residue of pitch-to-contactism.

a final table --- the cards vs their opponents:

pa avg obp slg
stl, all other 4,415 .277 .337 .415
opponents, all other 4,451 .272 .332 .435
stl, 2 out RISP 565 .220 .324 .349
opponents, 2 out RISP 702 .262 .360 .405

excluding 2-out RISP situations, the cards have outhit their opponents by 5 points and played them roughly to a draw overall. but in the key situations, opponents have outhit the cardinals by 42 points and out-ops'd them by nearly 100 points (.767 to .673).

the cards won't participate in the 2007 postseason, but they still have a chance to leave their fingerprints on it; 7 of their last 14 games come against playoff contenders, beginning tonight when they host philadelphia.