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faking it

i had lunch saturday w/ a work colleague and his family, and one of his daughters (11 years old) taught us all a simple card game called "bullshit." you deal out the entire deck; first person to play all his / her cards wins. whoever has the ace of spades plays it first to start the game, and then the player to his / her right has to play a 2, and the next person has to play a 3, etc etc; when you get up to king, you cycle back around to ace and keep going. every card is played face down, so the other players can’t see whether or not you’re bluffing --- and you have to bluff at some point, because there inevitably comes a play when you simply don’t have the card you need. e.g., you’re supposed to play a 8 but you don’t have one in your hand, so you just play a 3 or a jack or whatever and hope nobody calls you on it. opponents can call "bullshit" after any play if they think you’re bluffing, but if somebody calls you and you’re not bluffing then the accuser has to pick up all the cards played to date and add them to his / her hand. that’s a big deterrent, so if you’re a passable bluffer and you look a few moves ahead, you can get away with a lot of crap.

the cardinals are getting pretty good at playing bullshit. when, as so often happens these days, they don’t have a necessary card in their hand --- a starting pitcher, say; or a first baseman, a closer, a middle infielder, a left-handed reliever --- they just toss out whatever’s handy (doesn’t matter what, anything will do) and hope they don’t get called on it. some of you will think i’m making fun of the team or putting it down, but i mean this as a compliment. there is a certain skill to playing bullshit --- things you can do to manage your hand, minimize your bluffs, and keep the opposition guessing --- and the cardinals (who aren’t playing the game by choice) may have the knack for it. there’s also the possibility, as in every card game, that they’re winning more on luck than on merit, but i don’t want to go there. any team that has 10 pitchers plus albert pujols on the disabled list deserves credit for every win it can muster, even ones that come at least partially wrapped in fancy paper with a ribbon and bow. yesterday’s gift wasn’t quite as egregious as their win down a houston a week ago --- aside from the 8th inning, the cardinals played a solid game yesterday and deserved to win; molina literally sacrificed his body (not permanently thank god, but it was scary) for that victory. all the same, the tie should have carried over to the 11th inning, and the phillies had a distinct pitching edge at that point in the game --- lidge (0.93 era) and seanez (2.38) were still available, while the cards only had reyes, villone, and isringhausen left. (how long do you suppose that game would have had to go on before tony’d put isringhausen in to pitch? i almost think they’d rather send miles back to the mound than expose izzy to a do-or-die situation --- and dubious hometown fans --- in his first game back.)

but maybe the cardinals have been due for a little gift-wrapping. last month i noted that they stood last in the league in baserunners who reached on errors, or ROEs; their bad luck in that regard is evening out with a vengeance this month. they lead the league in ROEs during june, with 10 --- which is nearly as many as they had in april and may combined (13) --- and while they’re inching their way toward the middle of the pack in this regard (they now stand 13th in the league in ROEs), they still are owed a few favors by opposing defenders. so no need to apologize for the 10th-inning freebies; they had ’em coming.

the cards are hardly through playing bullshit; on the contrary, they’ll having to become ever more creative. the next move, due before the kc series opens tuesday, will be the addition of a 3d catcher for a few days while they make sure molina’s ok. bryan anderson isn’t on the 40-man and it would be foolhardy to burn an option year on him for stopgap purposes, so they’ll recall one of the johnsons (mark or gabe) and send out a pitcher. not sure which pitcher you send out, though --- it might end up being wellemeyer, who is scheduled to test his tender elbow in a bullpen session tuesday. if things don’t go well, imagine he’ll be bound for the dl. if the elbow passes muster, presumably boggs (who was lucky he only got tagged for 3 runs yesterday) or reyes will be the odd man out. the cards have 3 off days between now and the all-star break, which means they’ll be able to skip the 5th starter’s turn a couple of times; if they could find a way to elide the 4th starter as well and just get by with just looper, lohse, and pineiro, i’d like their chances better . . . . .

whatever; they’ll just have to bluff their way through. if they're still in this shape a month from now they might have to swing a trade, but the team is so clearly in need right now (and the trade deadline is so far away) that it's hard to see how they get favorable terms for a deal. dayn perry suggested the other day that the cards should consider trading rasmus and bryan anderson for cc sabathia (subscriber-only link); terrible idea in my opinion. i think they're best served to stand pat at least through the all-star break and reasses at that point, see who's healthy and how the standings look. as improbable as it may seem, this is a hot team. since losing to tampa bay 3-1 exactly a month ago today, the cards have gone on an 18-9 run that’s been far more impressive than the 19-11 spurt with which they opened the season --- tougher opposition, more road games, and an injury-depleted roster. they scored over 5 runs a game during that 18-9 segment and held opponents to 4.5 runs; if we discount friday night’s 20-run bruise from consideration, the cards’ per-game yield has been just over 4 runs a contest during the last 30 days.

i don’t see how they can sustain performance like that given the injury glut, but i (like most folks) have underestimated the club all year. baseball prospectus now gives them almost a 50-50 chance of making the playoffs --- a fine place to be with the summer just starting.