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the ups and downs

the new ‘n’ improved cards face their first test --- 5 losses in 6 games, uncertainty in the bullpen, and a frustrating stretch of lousy results with men on base. they stranded another 9 guys last night and went 1 for 10 with men in scoring position; they went 14 for 72 (.194) with RISP on the road trip. izturis, ryan, and ankiel all failed in that situation in the top of the 9th, getting themselves out on borderline (at best) pitches from hurlers groping to find the strike zone. i thought they had a decent opportunity to make that last inning interesting; one measly base hit tucked in among the 5 walks, and it would indeed have gotten interesting.

whatever; that’s probably just a blip. teams randomly go through hot / cold spells with respect to clutch hitting; or, if you prefer, their confidence ebbs and flows over the course of 162 games. this was a tough week for the offense, but i’m not too worked up about it. they continue to put men on base (team obp of .359 during the road trip, and .341 during the last 6 games), and they’ve now homered in 7 straight games; if troy glaus’s bat ever wakes up, i think the offense is gonna be alright. not great --- the middle infielders exert too much of a drag --- but above average.

and as long as we’ve brought him up --- what gives with glaus? do we think he’s ever gonna snap out of this? i think he will, for a bunch of reasons. first and foremost, the ball’s not coming off his bat much differently this year than it has in the past. his k rate is below his career average, and his walk rate’s above, both good signs; his gb / fb / ld rates are stable; he’s not hitting an alarmingly high number of pop flies or low number of line drives. (thank you fangraphs for all those numbers.) troy’s BABIP is .286, close to his career average (.281). based on all that information, i’d expect glaus’s stat line to revert to normal at some point. the only area of concern is his performance at busch stadium, where he can’t see the ball and is hitting .186 with a .572 ops (vs .286 / .881 on the road). as i understand it, his vision problems there are allergy-related; one hopes that will abate after the weather warms up and the pollen gets a little less thick.

before the trip started i looked at hot-starting st louis teams of yore and found that the three who most resembled this year’s team --- the 1977, 1981, and 2000 editions --- all leveled off in games 31 through 60, after matching or exceeding this year’s 19-11 record in games 1 through 30. to refresh your memory, all 3 of those teams (like this year’s) were coming off sub-.500 finishes in the previous season and had undergone drastic off-season roster remakes and / or changes in management. the ’77 club went 15-15 in the second 30 games; the ’81 team went 10-10 (and then were halted by the strike); and the ’00 team went 14-16. so far the 2008 cardinals are 4-6 in games 31-60, and likely headed for a .500ish record in that segment; so it goes. it’s called regression to the mean; while an above-average team might play .650 ball over a 30-game run, only a truly good one can sustain that for longer stretches of time. we may be getting some evidence that (as many suspected) the 2008 cardinals were playing above their heads in the early going, taking advantage of a soft schedule that was skewed heavily toward home games.

that’s the thing about a team with a lot of new, youngish faces; it’s a constant learning process. you’re always finding out new things about them; always have more questions than answers. maybe we’ll come to find out that april 2008 was just a mirage; maybe we won’t. the fun thing about the franchise this year, as opposed to years in the recent past, is that nearly every problem has a potential internal solution. chris duncan is slumping? no worries; joe mather is hitting .325 with power down at memphis, and colby rasmus will come around before too long. the bullpen’s in crisis? hello chris perez or jason motte. need a starting pitcher? they can choose from among parisi, reyes, boggs, jaime garcia (who made a very strong debut at triple A the other night), or pj walters (also a triple A now, and starting to feel his way). alas, the one place they lack good options is the place they need them most, in the middle infield; jarrett hoffpauir has cooled off after a flukishly hot start, d’angelo jimenez hasn’t shown much, and brian barden isn’t really a middle infielder. he has, however, been hitting (.325 with some power and a lot of walks). this guy bats right-handed and can play a passable second base (about 100 games there in the minor leagues); could he possibly be worse than aaron miles?

at the start of the season, the hope was the st louis could hang around the .500 mark long enough to get carpenter back into the rotation, then try to make a run at the playoffs in the last two months and/or position themselves for 2009. i’m still hoping they can do that; the 10 days in first place were fun, but i never took them all that seriously. i do take the next three weeks seriously, though; 13 of their next 19 games are at home, and the cards had best gain a little loft during that stretch because the june schedule is difficult --- 18 road games (vs only 9 home), with trips to houston, boston, and detroit. if they can get through game 60 (that’s june 3 vs washington) at 10 games over, i’ll be pretty damn happy. they’ll have to go 12-8 over the next 20 games to get there. good challenge for a team that's still taking shape; check back here in three weeks . . . .

p.s.: cards take game 5 of the sim-1986 NLCS , now lead the series 3 games to 2.