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unlikely sources

surprisingly --- or maybe not surprisingly, depending on how you feel about la russa --- adam kennedy is not the worst hitter tony has ever started at first base. in just his 12th game as the st louis manager, back in 1996, he started danny sheaffer at first base; take a look at sheaffer’s career record and see if you think kennedy is a worse hitter. in 1997 tony started tom pagnozzi at 1b one day; pags had a .628 ops at the time in limited duty (he’d been injured most of the year) and a career ops of .658. 1999 yielded a bumper crop of execrable first-basemen; with mcgwire at first base, coming off his 70-homer year, tony didn’t even carry a backup at the position. in may he gave a start at 1b to super joe mcewing, then a very popular rookie (he was hitting .372 at the time); david howard (career slg .303) started not one but two games at first base in ’99; and poor old broken-down willie mcgee started a game there as well (he had a .246 / .290 / .276 line at the time). there was also a game in 2002 that miguel cairo started at 1b.

even at his current, diminished level, kennedy’s a better hitter than all the aforementioned --- and he did knock in the go-ahead run off kenny rogers last night. the card lineup featured 3 middle infielders, a rule V draftee, and a guy playing his 2d game in the big leagues --- and it romped to the win. it’s turning out to be that kind of year.

albert has been down for 12 games now, and the cards have actually hit for more power in his absence --- 16 dingers in 12 games, which works out to 216 homers over a full season. they’re averaging 4.41 runs a game in his absence, a far milder downturn than we might have feared. where is the offense coming from? here are the hitters since june 11, in descending ops order:

barton 10  2  4  2  0  1  3 | .400 .400 .900
larue 27  4  9  0  0  2  6 | .333 .379 .556
kennedy 30  2 11  2  0  1  4 | .367 .367 .533
miles 34  4 12  1  0  1  2 | .353 .405 .471
molina 28  3  9  2  0  1  1 | .321 .321 .500
schumaker 47 10 13  1  0  3  7 | .277 .320 .489
ryan 24  3  8  3  0  0  3 | .333 .360 .458
ankiel 50  9 11  3  1  3  6 | .220 .291 .500
glaus 44  5  9  1  0  3  9 | .205 .300 .432
ludwick 48  6  9  3  0  1  6 | .188 .286 .312
duncan 40  1  7  1  0  0  1 | .175 .250 .200

mighty mites to the rescue. some of us will ascribe character virtue to these performances --- ie, the scrubs on the roster gutted up and willed themselves to play better in albert’s absence --- and others will just call them random data blips, the ups and downs that happen for no reason at all during any 162-game season. neither answer is entirely satisfactory. my biggest problem with the "guts" formulation is that it implies that the hitters who haven’t done well during albert’s disablement lack guts, or aren’t "winners," or whatever terminology you want to put on it. that doesn’t seem fair to, say, ryan ludwick, who was due to cool off at some point and just happened to do so at the moment the team needed him most. but if we’re going to write off the slumps to random chance, then don’t we also have to explain the hot streaks in the same manner? it doesn’t seem consistent to do otherwise. . . . . however, i’m not willing to embrace the "randomness" formulation entirely either, because that turns the ballplayers into automatons. expecting their performance to be unaffected by a trauma such as albert’s injury is unrealistic. the truth is that they grapple w/ the same psychological / emotional effects that we fans do --- fear, doubt, anxiety, etc etc. it goes without saying that some players can manage their emotions more readily than others. . . .

i’ll leave that pair of issues unreconciled, and open for discussion.

when albert when down, i said i was less concerned about the offense than about the pitching and defense --- as long as they kept runs off the board, i figured they could stay afloat. so far, that has largely been the case. in the 12 games since albert hit the dl, the cards have yielded 59 runs, or just shy of 5 a game --- but 20 of those runs came in a single game. in the other 11 games, they have yielded only 39 runs, or fewer than 4 a contest. looper has a 2.05 era in 3 starts since albert got hurt; lohse has a 1.93 era, pineiro 2.37. and the unsung hero of the pitching staff this month is russ springer, who has appeared in 8 of the 12 games during albert’s absence and pitched 6.1 innings of 1-hit, 1-run ball. he threw one of the most important innings of the season to date --- the bottom of the 7th in the friday night game at fenway, where he faced manny ramirez with the sacks jammed and nobody out and escaped the threat with the cards’ slim lead intact. springer has been murder on right-handed hitters this year, holding them to a .182 average and a .200 slugging average --- he’s allowed just 1 extra-base hit (a double) in 63 plate appearances.

the cards should be proud of how they’ve stayed afloat, but there’s no time for self-congratulation. the brewers are surging --- 15-6 this month. they’ve closed to within a game and a half of the st louis.